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CBH mental health event emphasizes: ‘You are not alone’

A message drawn onto a car window with a chalk marker emphasizes self-worth regardless of mental health challenges.
(Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Since 1949, May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month. The 2021 theme for the month was “You are not alone.”

The Center for Behavioral Health’s Native Connections program sponsored a drive-thru event May 24 in Big Cypress, Brighton, Hollywood and Immokalee and distributed 200 wellness kits. The department sent out daily mental health tips every day in May to promote good mental health.

“You aren’t alone if you are experiencing mental health challenges,” said Erin Kashem, Native Connections program manager. “It’s a lot more common than you think. One in five will experience it in their lifetime. We don’t talk about it, so the biggest support is to have those around you know about it. We want to reduce the stigma often attached to it.”
In addition to promoting mental health initiatives, the program focuses on suicide and substance abuse for tribal youth up to age 24. The Big Cypress-based program has been operational since 2019.

Wellness kits were distributed at the drive thru event, which included a journal and everything necessary to create a “calm down jar,” including a jar, glue and glitter. Food coloring could also be added. Participants added water to create the sparkly jar, which has a calming effect as the glitter floats and moves through the glue and water mixture.

The wellness kit also had a list of simple exercises to help achieve calmness. One was to take 10 slow, deep breaths, notice the lungs filling and then emptying while letting the mind wander. After the breathing exercises, it suggested to look around the room and notice what you saw, heard, smelled and felt.

An information sheet included in the wellness kit stated that journaling, or writing down thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly, can help manage emotions and improve mental health. Writing something every day can help to identify what causes stress and provide an outlet for expression.

Adis Padron, CBH clinical therapist, writes uplifting messages on the window of a vehicle at the Big Cypress CBH drive thru to promote Mental Health Awareness Month. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

A pamphlet that was distributed offered tips on how to start a conversation about mental health. First, a person should identify someone he or she is comfortable opening up to and who they know will listen. Tips for a successful conversation include finding information online that might help to explain things easier, expect questions, and understand that the conversation might feel awkward at first.

The pamphlet explained that by opening up and sharing something so personal, it can feel like a weight has been lifted. The other person in the conversation may have some personal experience with those feelings as well, which will make both parties feel less alone.

Conversely, the person may not understand and may not react in a positive way. According to information in the pamphlet, sometimes people just need time to process information.

Regardless of the outcome, the conversation is the first step in a process of healing. Mental health challenges are common and treatable, but it may take trying a few different methods before finding the one that will work.
Every year millions of people struggle with mental health issues. One of the goals of the program is to fight the stigma, provide support, educate the public and help individuals learn to manage their mental health challenges.

“We would welcome participation of tribal members who are passionate about and interested in promoting healing in the community,” Kashem said. “Historical trauma has contributed to various challenges and we want to address that. The strength is in the community and the knowledge is there. This program is about connecting those pieces together that are in place and building on that resiliency.”

To get involved, contact Erin Kashem at or (863) 902-3200 x13262.

Erin Kashem, CBH Native Connections program manager, gives a wellness kit to a participant in its Big Cypress drive-thru event May 25. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at