Mental health is the focus of Brittany Winkfield's latest purpose-driven party

You could say Brittany Winkfield is an expert in outer beauty. She is a hairstylist who owns W. Style Lounge Downtown, and this year she'll travel to London to study more hair-cutting and coloring techniques. But when she decided to plan a recurring, fashion-centered social event, she took a more purpose-driven approach.

“I'm really passionate about progression in people,” Winkfield said during a late-April interview Downtown. And thus the first Cocktails and Conversations event was launched in March at the Pelican Room. The attire was still fashionable, but the conversation focused on healthy finances and healthy relationships for the women attendees. And then the dialogue took an even deeper turn.

“It started to shift towards a counseling session,” said Dr. Maria Houston, who attended the event. “It sounded like those women in there had stories, or they have been through some healing or needed some healing.”

“Not a lot of people wanted to discuss intimate relationships, which would have been okay, but … it was more like, ‘Well, my father wasn't in my life,'” Winkfield recalled. “One girl was like, ‘Well, how do I grow up [when] I never had my mom around?'”

So for the next Cocktails and Conversations, which takes place Sunday, May 6, at the Meeting Place above Mikey's Late Night Slice Downtown, Winkfield and Houston are partnering to address mental health. Men and women are invited to mingle, eat, drink and then have a conversation lead by Houston, who practices at Columbus Area Integrated Health Services.

“I think mental illness has always been there,” Houston said. “People have always been suffering. I think now it's at a point we're almost forced to talk about it just given all the things that are happening on a societal level. … Our community is sick.”

Houston also emphasized the importance of properly identifying mental illness. “I think we've been traumatized and don't even know it,” she said. “Like you might have a girlfriend or a friend or somebody you're dating, and you're like, ‘That's just how they are.' … Let's move away from normalizing dysfunction.”

Attendees will also hear a personal testimony from Jordyn Dunlap, founder of nonprofit iLIVE the Movement, a platform for survivors of mental illness. Dunlap, a soon-to-be OSU graduate and part-time broadcast reporter, stressed the importance of dismissing stereotypes about what survivors look like.

Though the subject matter can be daunting, Houston wants attendees to be encouraged.

“[I want to] help people leave with the idea that there's hope,” she said. “And there are resources.”