I welcome all Iowans, Iowans at heart as well as friends, family and colleagues near and far to join us for Disability Rights Iowa’s first Annual Hybrid Mental Health Awareness Celebration: National Mental Health Awareness Celebration with Keynote Speaker Dior Vargas. We are excited to host this event in conjunction with our 25 amazing community Co-Sponsors. As the Iowa Protection and Advocacy Center, Disability Rights Iowa’s mission is to defend and promote the human and legal rights of Iowans with disabilities. Every day our team at Disability Rights Iowa strives to exceed this mission by empowering Iowans with disabilities by ensuring our rights of equality, opportunity, and independence.
While this is DRI’s first Mental Health Awareness Celebration, nationally, we have celebrated Mental Health Awareness Month for over 73 years. The month of May is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and its impact on each of us, our children, our communities, and our nation and to addressing and reducing the stigma experienced by so many. Each year, nearly twenty percent of adults (approximately 50 million) experience mental health symptoms, in Iowa, 473,000 adults (approximately 15% of the population) experience mental health symptoms. The last two years of living through and with the COVID-19 pandemic have altered the landscape of our lives and increased the need for honest conversations on the state of mental health. We all have experienced feelings of isolation, fear, panic, uncertainty, and sadness. Many of us do not acknowledge our symptoms, feel unable to reach out for treatment, and find it challenging to connect with mental health providers.
DRI serves all Iowans with Disabilities. One of my top priorities as Executive Director is to establish a state-wide presence for DRI. It is vital that all Iowans with Disabilities are aware of all the services we can provide, and have access to our resources and events. This event marks the first of many state-wide events. Through the in-person event in Des Moines, six in-person Community Satellite Venues in Sioux City, Mason City, Council Bluffs, Dubuque, Fairfield, and Davenport, and the livestream, individuals will have the opportunity to gather with their community to experience Dior Vargas’ Keynote Presentation. Through our live-stream option, all Iowans will have an opportunity to join and participate in this event. We hope to grow our connection with the Disability Community and develop new community partnerships in each of these cities, as well as all of Iowa through this event.
I had the privilege of working with Dior Vargas multiple times over the past couple of years. Dior is an exceptionally impactful presenter. She shares her experiences of growing up Latina, knowing that she was experiencing symptoms of depression, and how not being accepted by her community or able to share her experiences with her family and community impacted her in a very personal and relatable manner. Dior’s experience of learning that her mental health conditions were included within the protections offered under the Americans with Disabilities Act was a revolution that changed her life. Understanding that she had protection from discrimination based on her mental health conditions changed and empowered her life and her advocacy. In planning for our first state-wide Celebration of Mental Health Awareness, I knew that Dior’s ability to share her lived experiences as a Queer Latina with mental health diagnoses made her the ideal person to lead our first-statewide conversation on mental health in Iowa.
Today, we hope to come together to share, build community and learn from Dior Vargas on the impact of the provenance of mental health, mental health barriers, stigma, the empowerment of education, and solutions. I am grateful for the support from our 24 Co-Sponsors, our Team at Disability Rights Iowa and our Disability Community for their commitment and excitement for this Celebration. We hope this Celebration begins a new conversation in Iowa on how we break down barriers, remove stigma and build an inclusive and supportive community.
By: Catherine Johnson