Trigger Film Screening

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A partnership of DBHIDS – EMOC and First Person Arts

For Black Women Who Say They’re Okay When They’re Not

How are you feeling? 

As leaders in our communities, workplaces, families, and homes, Black women are often carrying a physical and emotional load for themselves and those around them.

Earlier this year we got a sobering reminder of the invisible baggage we carry when we learned about the death of Cheslie Kryst, former Miss USA and entertainment news correspondent at Extra

From the outside, the 30-year-old appeared to have it all. With a pageant crown, multiple degrees, talent, and charisma, she exuded what some would describe as “Black Girl Magic.” But in a social media post confirming her suicide, Kryst’s mother, April Simpkins, revealed Cheslie was dealing with high functioning depression.  

What is high functioning depression? The clinical term is dysthymia. According to Psychology Today, three causes of high functioning depression are trauma, intergenerational depression, and unresolved frustration, something many Black women know about.

In 2007 the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development published the report “Cultural dysthymia: An unrecognized disorder among African Americans?” The report states, “After more than 250 years of enslavement, prejudice, and discrimination, dysthymia is reflected in chronic low-grade sadness, anger, hostility, aggression, self-hatred, hopelessness, and self-destructive behaviors.”

As we’re starting to emerge from the pandemic and the stress of the past two years, it’s OK to not be OK. But if you’re not, it’s important to get help.

Here are six ways to mind your mental health:

  1. Make a to-do list and a to-don’t list. Too often we try to take on everything and consequently suffer from burnout. Try this Trash, Transfer, Trim, Treasure exercise we use at The Ladipo Group to help you recognize responsibilities and activities you should stop doing, delegate, spend less time on, or continue doing because it brings you joy.
  2. Ask for help. There’s no shame in admitting your emotions might be too much to process on your own. Use resources like TherapyForBlackGirls.com to find a therapist in your area.
  3. Rest, rest, rest. Whether it’s getting the amount of sleep you need each night or taking small rest breaks throughout the day, allow time for your body and mind to stop moving, shut down, and rest.
  4. Move your body. Dance, exercise or do anything that gets your body moving daily. Movement boosts your mood by releasing endorphins which make us feel good.
  5. Curate your social media. Oftentimes we scroll through our phones and feel lousy. Review the people you follow and content you absorb, and delete those that don’t add joy.
  6. Intentionally cultivate and connect with your tribe. Our tribes of sister-friends get us through the darkest times and celebrate the joyful times as well. Don’t wait until you’re in the depths of despair to reach out. Sometimes a text or funny meme is all that’s needed.

If you struggle to take time out to care for your mental health, remember that you’ll be better able to care for others when you’re filled and refreshed from first caring for you!

Tonya Ladipo is the Founder and CEO of The Ladipo Group, the region’s only therapy, counseling, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consulting practice specializing in serving Black and African-American communities.

The Search for Culturally Competent Care

Fans of the award-winning TV series ‘This is Us’ may remember the episode where Randall decides to switch therapists. The character—a successful commodities trader turned Philadelphia City Councilman—is African American, was raised by a white family, and struggles with anxiety and PTSD. He admits that he isn’t comfortable sharing many of his feelings with his current therapist. His new doctor is “cool, smart, funny, Black, young father… we got a lot in common,” Randall explains.

Does your therapist ‘get’ you? The answer to this question is a key factor in mental health recovery. 

Finding a provider you trust, who you connect with and who has experience working with people like you, isn’t always easy. Yet it is especially important for members of minority groups—many of whom suffer generational trauma from systemic racism, yet don’t receive the treatment they need. 

The numbers are telling. Forty-five percent of U.S. adults with mental illness receive help, but just 23 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) adults, 33 percent of Black adults, 34 percent of Hispanic/Latinx adults, and very few Native people with mental illness get treatment. 

This is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month—a time to focus on the unique struggles around mental illness that minority communities in the United States face, along with the solutions. Finding culturally competent providers is one of them. 

What is cultural competence in mental health? 

Cultural competence is understanding that a person’s values, experiences, and personal beliefs are shaped by their ethnic and community identities and the influences that come with it. These factors can also explain why a patient avoids treatment and how they perceive and express symptoms, cope, adhere to treatment, and attach stigma to mental illness.

Exploring a patient’s cultural identity may help providers tailor mental health treatment. On the flip side, cultural incompetence likely contributes to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis in Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, writes Mental Health America. “Language differences between patient and provider, stigma of mental illness among BIPOC, and cultural presentation of symptoms are some of the many barriers to care that explain these errors in the diagnostic process.”

Assessing a provider’s level of cultural sensitivity 

It starts with asking the right questions. The National Alliance on Mental Illness advises that you ask:

  • Have you treated other people with my cultural background?
  • Have you received training in culturally competent care for members of my community?
  • How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
  • Do you have training in trauma-informed care?

Here are a few places to start your search for a culturally-competent mental health provider:

Psychology Today – Search for a therapist by zip code, ethnicity served, type of therapy and more.

Inclusive Therapists – Search by insurance, specialty, therapist identity, language, cultural knowledge, therapeutic approach, and location.

Open Path – A nonprofit serving clients who cannot afford current market rates for therapy through a network of affordable mental health professionals. Search by specialty, language, therapist ethnicity, age specialty, treatment orientation, and location.

You might also try:

Asian Mental Health Collective

The Association of Black Psychologists Therapist Resource Directory

Therapy for Latinx

Centers for Medicaid and Medicare American Indian/Native Behavioral Health Service Locator

Talking to Kids About Gun Violence

Like many U.S. cities, Philadelphia is struggling with a rising tide of gun violence. During this calendar year alone, there were 957 nonfatal and 242 fatal shootings in the city as of July 4, 2022. One hundred and five of these cases involved children under age 18.

These shootings take their toll on the mental health of our children. Research suggests that concern about school violence or shootings may be a risk factor for developing anxiety disorders.

In an article written for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Faculty Member Aditi Vasan, M.D., MSHP writes, “As a pediatrician, I have often seen children come into the hospital or clinic with mental health-related symptoms, including depressed mood, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, in the days and weeks following a shooting near their home or school.”

Children as young as two years old can be aware of gun violence, says Julie Campbell, LCSW, Trauma Services Director at the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center in Philadelphia. But because children are often exposed to gun violence on television and in video games, it can be hard for them to understand what it means when a person is shot.

It’s heartbreaking to watch a child struggle with the stress and anxiety that gun violence can provoke. But it’s not always easy to know how to respond, or what to say. Campbell encourages parents to take their cues from their kids, listening closely to what they know and what they fear, and responding at a level they can understand. “If we ask an open-ended question and then pause to listen deeply, the communication is much more meaningful and more likely to continue,” Campbell says.

Parents shouldn’t shy away from taking the lead to start the conversation, Campbell adds. And both parents and educators can help reassure children by talking about the safety measures that are in place to protect them.

Additional tips to help parents manage their children’s anxiety include:

  • Stay connected. After a first conversation, check in with your child every few days to see if they’re still feeling anxious.
  • Encourage kids to reach out to the adults around them if they’re worried or upset.
  • Turn the television off, especially if the news is replaying violent incidents.
  • Spend family time together. Have a game night or movie night so children feel that home is a safe and good place to be.
  • Support your child’s wellness, including helping them get enough exercise and sleep. Lack of sleep can make children more irritable and less able to manage their emotions.
  • Teach your child relaxation strategies such as deep breathing. A “4-7-8 breathing” exercise made popular by Dr. Andrew Weil has been found effective in managing anxiety and helping people fall asleep. Sesame Street offers several excellent video demonstrations of this breathing technique for children, including Learn to Belly Breathe with Rosita and Common and Colbie Caillat Sing Belly Breathing with Elmo.
  • Teach your child positive self-talk. “When we’re thinking fearful thoughts, we can hit the pause button in our brain and change them to positive thoughts, such as ‘I’m home, I’m safe, I know how to ask for help,’” Campbell says.
  • Maintain your own self-care. Getting support for yourself will trickle down to your children and make you more emotionally available for them.

Pediatricians can also be allies in helping support kids, Campbell notes. They are trained to talk to families about exposure to trauma and to detect signs of anxiety. Children might not have the words to express their feelings. But sleep problems, changes in eating habits, or complaints of headaches and stomach aches provide clues to problems that providers can address, she says. “Medical care is not just about your body, it’s also about your emotional health.”

The Importance of Violence Prevention

It’s a tragedy that gun violence has become so commonplace that we need strategies for helping our children manage the resulting anxiety. While we must provide them with this support, we also mustn’t accept this level of violence as a fact of life.

Greg Deavens, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross, issued this statement on May 18, 2022: “Philadelphia – like so many other cities across the country – is experiencing an epidemic of gun violence. These senseless crimes destroy families and communities and take a toll on our collective mental well-being.” He added, “Independence strongly condemns all acts of violence, and we pledge to always be a force for positive change.”

Useful Links

If You Need Help

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

For more information about self-care strategies for mental health and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.

Take a Minute to Breathe

Ariana Grande’s popular song “breathin’” is an anthem to anxiety that speaks to a simple solution with a multitude of benefits. “Don’t know what else to try, but you tell me every time, just keep breathin’ and breathin’” chants the pop superstar.

Unfortunately, most of us weren’t taught the simple techniques and range of positive outcomes that come with—well—simply breathing.

It happens to all of us. Feelings like anxiety, stress, and fear cause our breathing to be shallow, irregular, or rapid. It’s entirely normal. Our body’s automatic response is to protect itself. The trick is to focus not on what’s happening around us, but to what is happening within us. We are breathing. It’s our most basic instinct.

Practicing steady, deep breathing delivers more oxygen to the body and brain, reduces your heart rate and decreases the release of cortisol—better known as the stress hormone. Deep breathing also releases endorphins. This in turn increases a sense of calm and can combat pain.

Other known benefits of deep breathing include:

  • Lower blood pressure –Relaxation opens the blood vessels and improves circulation
  • More energy—From increased oxygen to the circulatory system
  • Less headache pain – Due to reduced tension locked in the shoulders and neck (you’ll rest better, too!)

Practice Makes Perfect

Getting back to steadier breaths is within reach. All it takes is a few minutes of practice. The American Psychiatry Association (APA) created one solution called “Just Breathe.” For three to four minutes a day:

  • Think about your body. (Are you breathing rapidly, forgetting to take a breath altogether, or taking shallow gasps?)
  • Begin breathing slowly and deeply for a count of four
  • Hold that breath in for a count of four
  • Slowly let the breath out for a count of six

Why does this work? Our brains can tell when we have varying emotions. Taking a few minutes to exercise a large organ in our body – our lungs – refocuses precious energy and retrains the way our body responds to our feelings.

Self-Care is Good Care

Almost everyone can relate to Grande’s refrain, “Time goes by, and I can’t control my mind.”

When this does happen to you, remember to breathe. Better yet, be proactive and take a small step in self-care by scheduling 4 minutes of ‘me time’ on your iPhone or calendar. Devote that time to breathing exercises.

Then, the next time someone asks you “How are you,” it will ring true when you reply, “I am good!”

De-Escalating Stress For Improved Mental Health

After two years of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, people are feeling stressed. We have less patience for slights that we used to shrug off. We want people to listen to us and support us, but we sometimes may forget that they probably want the same things from us.

We might also feel we don’t have the bandwidth to extend more support to others. We might be a little less kind than we could be.

But in today’s reality, small annoyances can mushroom into big conflicts. We’ve seen shootings over parking spaces, people yelling at each other for wearing masks or not wearing masks, and a frightening uptick in violence throughout Philadelphia and across the country.

Sensational Headlines Can Raise Our Stress Levels

The smartphones we carry around often add to the tension. Social media, television, and radio programming often thrives on conflict and emotion. We are fed a steady stream of provocative headlines, whether they’re about the war in Ukraine, politics, or racial injustice. Even sports updates and weather forecasts are often presented in dire terms.

It’s important to be mindful of how these stories may upset us and try to avoid getting overwhelmed. Otherwise all this negative news can raise our blood pressure and increase our risk of heart disease or stroke, weaken our immune systems, affect the quality of our sleep, and generally worsen our mental health and sense of well-being.

Take Back Control

There are a few things we can do to de-escalate the level of stress in our lives.

Start by practicing love and kindness to yourself. Affirmations — positive statements we repeat to ourselves to help us overcome negative thoughts — can be a useful tool. Repeat gentle affirmations in your mind, such as wishing happiness and freedom from suffering for you and the people you care about. It sounds simple, but studies show that this kind of practice helps us feel connected and supported and increases our patience.

It’s also important to take breaks. Give your phone a rest and go outside. Take a walk, play with your dog, or say hello to your neighbors. Get together with friends in person.

And consider reading the news rather than listening to it. You’ll be able to better control which stories you read. Take them in at your own pace, and stop before you become overwhelmed.

Finally, remember that most people are having a hard time, so resist the temptation to assume the worst about them. If a friend, stranger, or co-worker makes an insensitive comment, it may be because they’re experiencing a lot of stress themselves. A well-meaning compliment or kind word from you could change their whole attitude and lead to a more positive relationship.

For more information about mental health self-care strategies and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.