By Jonathan Williams
Times West Virginian
According to mental health indicators collected by federal health agencies, West Virginia has a long road to travel.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports the state is among the highest in the country for individuals experiencing major depressive episodes, to say nothing about general psychological distress.
Cheri Shelton, president of Community Outreach for Mental Health, said her group was founded to provide support for people struggling with mental illnesses and their families, and each year they host a music festival to bring awareness to the issue and raise money to keep the support group going and expand its services.
MusicFest, featuring a mix of classic and modern rock groups, will be held from 2-7 p.m. Saturday, at the East Marion Park Pavilion No. 1 with a $5 entrance fee for adults. Kids under 12 will be admitted free.
“Everyone that goes has a good time,” Shelton said. She and the group are trying to get the word out and make the event, on its third year, a mainstay in the community.
Performing will be Joe Garcia, the Bad Matadaors, Jon Schooley and Michael Ginsberg, Jenna Won’t Sing, and The Skinnys.
“The music is excellent,” Shelton said. “The acts are really great.”
The festival is in May because it’s Mental Health Month, she said. “There’s a national group that grades states on their services for people with mental illnesses and West Virginia has pretty consistently received an ‘F.’
“We hope to improve that by advocating for people with mental illnesses,” she said.
The organization came up with the festival, its only fundraiser, to cover operating expenses.
“It’s mainly insurance,” Shelton said, which goes toward covering monthly events with patrons at the Soup Opera.
“Our hope is that eventually they’ll start a drop-in center for people that have mental illnesses so they will have a place to go and socialize,” she said.
She would also like to start scheduling speakers at the group’s monthly meetings for the public to attend.
They have a ways to go, though. Community Outreach for Mental Health began its life as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization about two years ago, though Shelton said people have been meeting for much longer than that.
“The group is open to anyone who has an interest in mental health for any reason,” she said. “We try to assist and support people that have mental illnesses and their families and caregivers.”
In the past, Shelton said they’ve had a hard time getting the word out about their event.
“We can handle double or triple the people that have been there in the past,” she said.
Shelton said Music Fest is a lot of fun, and it raises money for a good cause.
“We want to be there to support the people that are going through this now,” she said. “When you first find out that a family member has a serious mental illness, you're pretty much blind-sided, and if you can have support at that time it's very helpful.”
The group will be selling hot dogs and other refreshments at the event. There will also be facepainting.
Alcohol and drugs are prohibited from the event.
If anyone has any questions about the event or getting involved with Community Outreach for Mental Health, they can call Shelton at 304-366-0326.
Email Jonathan Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JWilliamsTWV.