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Jacksonville Mental Health Summit Summons Strength To Tackle Reform In Tallahassee

Ryan Benk

Mental health professionals, advocates and those living with mental illness from across Florida converged at the Hyatt Hotel in Downtown Jacksonville this week.

Attendees of the Florida Mental Health Summitare hoping state lawmakers will reform mental health-care.

Jacksonville-based photographer Chad Dennis was at the summit Wednesday morning.

“Going through mental illness myself, with my family and my mom’s tried to commit suicide, my brother’s tried to commit suicide, I’ve lost an uncle to suicide -- all of this stuff. We never talked about it. Nobody ever talked about it,” Dennis said.

Dennis said his photos, which line the walls leading into the ballroom, are visual representations of people’s suffering. And he said that helps foster empathy.

Mental Health America’s Denise Marzullo hopes lawmakers take some of that empathy to Tallahassee next year.

“In just a few minutes we’re going to go into the final session,” Marzullo said. “Where we really kind of get down and dirty on what are the priorities? What do we want to focus on?”

Marzullo got summit goers to play a game. Something like “what would you grab in a fire?” She said, start with 15 priorities, slowly cross them out and you’re left with the most important.

At the top of Jessica Wilson’s list: Get more mental-health professionals to enter the field. Wilson is a University of North Florida master's student and aspiring counselor.

Denise Marzullo says she’ll take concerns like Wilson’s with her when she lobbies for reform in Tallahassee.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.