Improving Transgender Mental Health Through Education, Awareness, and Support

The Golden Globe-winning television series Pose depicts the diversity, strength, and exuberance of the transgender (trans) community. Its popularity has helped viewers understand the real-life challenges of its characters and cast.

While Pose and other media are raising the profile of trans actors, too many trans people continue to face struggles that can impact both their mental and physical health. As we recognize the International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, we must work to dismantle the barriers to health that many trans people still face.

According to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, 27.9 percent of Americans surveyed between December 29, 2021 and January 10, 2022 reported symptoms of anxiety disorder. However, among people identifying as transgender, the figure was nearly double — 50.4 percent. And according to the 2015 United States Transgender Survey (USTS), Black transgender individuals are eight times more likely to report psychological distress than the general population. Additionally, more than 30 percent of Black transgender individuals report negative experiences when seeking health care.

A History of Discrimination

Transgender individuals can be challenged to find meaningful employment because of discrimination on several levels, says Lisa Phillips, LCSW, (pronouns they/them). Philips is the lead therapist at Morris Home, a residential drug and alcohol facility in Southwest Philadelphia for transgender people facing chronic homelessness. For example, they may lack appropriate documentation (a legal name change can be expensive), which can create barriers to finding both employment and safe housing, Phillips says.

These difficulties, combined with stigmatization and higher-than-average rates of violence toward transgender individuals, cause financial and social hardship and lead to higher rates of homelessness and substance abuse.

A Health Care Challenge

It was only in 2019 that the World Health Organization removed “transsexualism” as a designated mental disorder and coined the term “gender incongruence” as a classification in the category of sexual health problems. Another challenge that trans people face is access to gender-affirming mental health providers, Phillips says.

Clinicians unfamiliar with working with transgender people can perpetuate harm by misgendering them or making assumptions about a person’s lived experience. Some transgender individuals have been rejected by their families and feel isolated; some cisgender clinicians may not be checking for such issues or assessing appropriately.

Clinicians who are unfamiliar with the transgender experience may overemphasize gender identity when the real medical issue is something else, like depression or an eating disorder. Phillips notes, “A lot of times, when a transgender person is going to see a medical provider, the burden falls on the client to educate the clinician about their experience. That can create mental stress and detract from the quality of care.”

And making a gender-affirming transition can be a lengthy and expensive process. “For trans people that medically transition, there is a great deal of gatekeeping and limited resources, especially for trans communities in more rural or conservative areas,” they say.

A Diverse and Vibrant Community

On the International Transgender Day of Visibility, Phillips encourages people to educate themselves by reading about and listening to the trans community on social media and other sources.

“We have a lot to learn from trans people,” they add. “Trans communities have found creative and brilliant ways to survive, thrive, and create spaces of safety and joy in a culture that has actively sought to exclude trans experiences.”

If You Need Help

The Trans Lifeline provides peer support at 1-877-565-8860. For more information about depression, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit

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.

2022 Faith and Spiritual Affairs Conference

Event Time: April 29, 2022 9:30 am

Event Location:

Registration is now open for the 15th Annual DBHIDS Faith and Spiritual Affairs Conference, taking place virtually on Friday, April 29, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The theme this year is “Triumph through Tragedy: Finding Ways to Persevere.” The conference will illustrate how faith communities and the City of Philadelphia have partnered to recognize perseverance, strength, and triumphs in the face of prolonged traumas.

Over the course of the last two years, many have been affected by gun violence, COVID-19, economic insecurity, systemic racism, and other hardships. The resulting stress and trauma have taken a toll on our personal wellness. Our conference goal is intended to build on the strengths and tenacity of Philadelphians to address the tragedies our communities have experienced. This year’s conference is a reminder that Philadelphia, a city built on hope and faith, can unite to become victorious.

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Managing the Mental Health Effects of Social Injustice

For many in our region, an average day can consist of witnessing and experiencing food insecurity, discrimination, or violence. These social injustices are ever-present, yet can remain undiscussed and absent from conscious awareness, leaving those experiencing them feeling invisible. Then there are tragedies so horrific and incomprehensible that they move beyond local and community awareness to national conversation.

This was the case with Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old African-American woman who was fatally shot in March 2020 when officers forced entry into her apartment during a drug dealing investigation. The anniversary of her death reminds us of the painful year of 2020. We are also reminded that we have become more attuned to seeing tragedy and injustice. For example, a devastating home fire may trigger thoughts of inequity. We may notice who receives treatment and testing for COVID-19 and who does not, making us consider differences in access to care. Overall, our awareness has increased.

Social Injustice and Mental Health

It is important to consider the impact of all that we see. Witnessing or hearing about traumatic events can lead to complicated emotions, feelings of helplessness, anger, sadness, shame, and guilt. After experiencing an unsettling, painful event, either personally or through media, many children and adults dream about it. They re-experience the images, sounds, and feelings. People often find themselves replaying in their minds events that disturbed them.

Figuring out the best way to deal with exposure to painful events is complicated. However, Breonna Taylor’s death not only placed a spotlight on social injustice, it also showed us how we can respond to tragic events and how communities can support each other. In response to the loss of her life, people came together; they discovered their personal sense of agency, and they sought support. We can use these same tools to cope with the ongoing stream of painful events we observe in person and in the media.

Avoid Suffering in Silence: Talk About the Experience

When there is pain, many of us tend to withdraw and bury our feelings, but difficult emotions need to be expressed, and supportive relationships and community can help foster that expression. Following the death of Breonna Taylor, communities of varying backgrounds came together to give words to their pain and trauma. The grief and anguish were profound, but these feelings were transformed into words and narratives. People shared their experiences, which others validated.

As we are constantly bombarded with images of injustice and pain, it is crucial to engage our children in dialogue about their feelings, and talk about our feelings with close friends, in journaling, or with a therapist.

Move to Action

Pain can be immobilizing, and when tragedy seems constant, it can result in feelings of helplessness or a loss of agency. “Say Her Name” was one phrase that reverberated on social media. This demand for acknowledgement and justice for Breonna Taylor was a movement from a passive stance to an active stance.

Social injustices are all around us. We must find ways to explore our own biases, educate our children about injustice, advocate for others, and form more connected communities.

Seek Support

More Americans sought mental health support during 2020 and 2021, not only in response to COVID-19 but also because of the tragedies that we collectively witnessed. Mental health became a leading topic, and people began to recognize the urgency of attending to their mental health.

It is essential that we do not become so numb to tragedy that we ignore or attempt to minimize its effects. We all must continue to seek support through trusted relationships or through mental health services. As exposure to pain and injustice persists, caring for our mental health remains vital.

If You Need Help

For more information about depression, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit

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.

Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis: The Importance of Mental Health Care

Cancer is a whole-body disease. It affects people physically, mentally, and emotionally. Undergoing testing, diagnosis, and treatment can cause intense feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, frustration, stress, and fear. Studies show that at least 30 to 35 percent of cancer patients experience some type of mental health condition. At the same time, caregivers and loved ones may also experience many of these same feelings.

Navigating Cancer During a Global Pandemic

We’re also entering a third year of the COVID-19 pandemic — a time marked by loss, uncertainty, anxiety, and fatigue. Navigating cancer during a pandemic presents even more health concerns. People with cancer are immunocompromised, which means they must be even more diligent with COVID-19 safety precautions.

This also affects family members or caregivers who are doing their best to keep COVID-19 out of their home. Every outing or interaction can cause fear and worry. Treatment may further limit what a person can do outside of the hospital in the midst of a pandemic. Daily worries all are amplified by the reality of cancer.

When to Seek Help

Being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease will affect your mental health. It is totally normal and appropriate for people with cancer to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, and fear. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept long bouts of mental health struggles. While patients may experience ups and downs in their mood, if these feelings last for longer than a few days, it’s time to seek help.

The Importance of Mental Health Treatment

At times, the challenges of navigating a cancer diagnosis (especially during a global pandemic) may seem insurmountable. But it is critical to keep mental health in focus when coping with cancer. In fact, a healthy mental state may positively impact treatment outcomes. For example, studies show that people with cancer who got treatment for mental health conditions had longer survival times. In addition, those who get mental health treatment are more likely to follow through with medical care and often have a better quality of life.

From Silence to Recovery: NAMI Members of the Black Community Speak Out

Ten advocates and experts share their stories and speak their truths about mental health issues in the Black community and take it right on up to the pulpit. From the trauma of racism to the alarming increase in suicide among Black youth and the stigma that stands in the way of life-saving mental health awareness and support, these messengers of hope are raising their voices to help individuals, families and their loved ones find help and community.

Remember NAMI resources are available: Call our HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) – open Mon-Fri from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET. Text “NAMI” to 741-741 – Available 24/7. Visit us online at Find your local NAMI at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

People of Color Peer Support Group

Event Time: February 14, 2022 7:00 pm

Event Location:

The People of Color support group is to support people of color who are finding it difficult to gain support from family and friends. It is a safe place to talk about their diagnosis and medications and side effects.  Each member, if compelled too, shares what is going on with them whether it be personal issues, or how they interact or how people interact with them. At the end of sharing we discuss a topic that relates to mental health, self-kindness or a question of the day.

NAMI Philadelphia will use Zoom to host Online Support Groups. Zoom is a web-based video conferencing tool with a local, desktop client and a mobile app that allows users to meet online, with or without video. Prior to attending a NAMI Online Support Group, you’ll need to download the Zoom application on your computer or smartphone.

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Volunteer for Better Mental Health, Virtually

If you think the pandemic means that you can’t safely volunteer, think again! There are many ways to donate your time and talents virtually to organizations you care about. You can even boost your own mental health and that of others at the same time.

Just ask Courtney McDade, director of Public Affairs Programs at Independence Blue Cross (Independence). Since the pandemic began, Independence’s Blue Crew volunteer corps has not let up — it simply pivoted. Blue Crew volunteers have remained steadfast in supporting the community through remote and virtual volunteerism.

In 2021, nearly 900 Blue Crew volunteers donated over 2,500 hours through more than 100 virtual volunteer projects. During the past year, Independence associates completed these and many more projects:

  • Packed hygiene kits for students returning to school
  • Created education access kits for children
  • Sewed stuffed animals for dog rescues
  • Wrote cards to veterans and seniors

These efforts reflect Independence’s commitment to continue its volunteer efforts with community-driven and diverse organizations whose mission is to address health, community, and food inequities.

“At a time when people are busier than ever, there continues to be incredible engagement from our associate volunteers,” McDade says. “Many leaders of our business divisions are working with us to organize virtual volunteer projects for their teams and others are participating in our virtual volunteer events throughout the year.”

She adds, “We have even had dozens of associates volunteer for the first time thanks to the accessibility of virtual volunteering. I think virtual volunteering will become a permanent part of our program in 2022.”

The Benefits of Volunteering

Whether through work, with family, or individually, studies have shown that volunteering has a direct benefit on mental health.

Celebrating 20 years of the Blue Crew’s service to the community this year, Independence conducted a survey of local volunteers in March 2021. The 551 respondents reported a positive emotional connection to volunteer work, explaining that it drives feelings of connectedness, happiness, pride, inspiration, energy, optimism, and feeling informed.

Results showed that of the volunteers:

  • 74% feel like they have a sense of purpose
  • 67% feel closer to their community
  • 49% believe they can understand their community better
  • 47% believe it increases their empathy
  • 46% says it improves their mood

Among the Independence volunteers is Executive Assistant Helen Shoffner, who began volunteering after the death of her father as a way to find meaning amidst her grief. She started by helping kindergarteners learn to read, and has since donated more than 700 hours in a variety of ways, such as serving meals, donating clothing, and stuffing backpacks.

Helen remains a dedicated Blue Crew volunteer today, continuing to give back to a variety of organizations.

A Sense of Purpose

The sense of purpose and meaning we get when we volunteer makes us feel appreciated and can reduce stress. It may even affect us physically: according to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Volunteering can be especially helpful to seniors because it provides access to social and psychological resources known to counter negative moods such as depression and anxiety.

Helping others increases social connections and helps build a support system based on common interests. Older volunteers in particular report improvement in life satisfaction and self-esteem.

A Myriad of Opportunities

While you may picture volunteering as working at a soup kitchen or repairing houses, you might be surprised at the number and variety of online volunteer opportunities.

For instance, you can share your career experience to help veterans and military spouses with career counseling and mock interviews. You can be the voice at the other end of a crisis hotline, transcribe documents for digital archives, help the blind via an app, or be a translator for a nonprofit.

Almost any organization you can imagine has virtual volunteer opportunities, so contact one that that inspires you and learn what you can do to help. Whether using your professional skills, exercising your creativity, or just being there for someone, volunteering is a great way to boost your mental health while making life better for others.

Where to Begin

To discover local volunteer opportunities, visit:

If You Need Help

While volunteering can be a powerful tool for improving your mood, it’s not a substitute for mental health treatment. If you’re consistently feeling sad or anxious, talk to your health care provider. For more information about depression, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit

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.

Six Wellness Tips for Cold Weather: How to Stay Healthy in Winter

The end of the year is a busy time. On top of that, the seasons are changing (winter officially begins on December 21), which can affect your physical and mental health. Now more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself!

With shorter days and colder weather on the horizon, it’s important to maintain healthy habits. And that means doing more than just bundling up. Here are six ways to stay healthy during cold weather:

  1. Get a flu shot. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to help prevent the spread of flu. No one wants to come down with the flu — it can cause symptoms such as coughing, congestion, fever, and fatigue that can last up to two weeks. Protect yourself and your family from getting sick by getting the flu vaccine. Recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu between 40 to 60 percent.
  2. Wash your hands often. Winter is peak season for contagious illnesses; in addition to COVID-19, we still need to take precautions to protect against cold and flu. The most effective way to remove and prevent the spread of illness-causing germs is to wash your hands frequently. When washing your hands, remember to get a good lather of soap on your hands, and scrub for at least 20 seconds with warm water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help slow the spread of viruses.
  3. Eat for immunity. As part of your efforts to stay well and avoid the cold and flu this winter, it’s important to eat healthy foods that support your immune system, including mushrooms, garlic, citrus fruits, herbs and spices, probiotics, prebiotics, and chicken soup. For example, yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics. Apples, bananas, garlic, and onions are good sources of prebiotics.
  4. Keep moving! The winter months can be a challenging time to stick to your exercise routine. Not only can preparing for the holidays leave you feeling drained, the cold weather can also be a deterrent to getting outside for some exercise. While it’s important to stay active during the winter, it’s also necessary to follow local guidelines on social distancing to stay safe. Consider working out at home with virtual exercise classes or exercise equipment, such as a treadmill or stair climber, and try to add extra movement into your routine throughout the day. When the weather is nice, take the opportunity to get some fresh air with a hike in one of the area’s many trails.
  5. Get some sun. While the availability of sunlight is limited during the winter months, it’s important to spend some time outdoors even when it’s cold. Sunlight has been shown to help improve your mood by boosting the release of a hormone called serotonin. Exposure to sunlight is especially important to help treat those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression. Exposure to sunlight also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, which controls your body clock and affects sleep habits.
  6. Maintain good skin health. Cold weather can wreak havoc on your skin, leaving you with dryness, flaking, cracking, and in some cases, eczema. To keep your skin moist and healthy through the winter, be sure to drink plenty of water, hydrate your skin with an ointment moisturizer, and use sunscreen whenever you’re out during the day. Exposure to the sun’s rays, even in the winter, can still have damaging effects on your skin, so be sure to choose a sunscreen that has an SPF factor of 30 or above to ensure adequate protection.

Protect Yourself with a Flu Shot

Most Independence members can get their flu vaccine for $0 when they present their member ID card at in-network providers.* For Independence members who pay out of pocket at a non-participating location, you can get reimbursed for the cost up to $50. Visit our Immunizations page to see what your health plan covers.

*Call the number on your member ID card or ask your benefits administrator for more information about your health coverage.
Independence Blue Cross offers products through its subsidiaries Independence Hospital Indemnity Plan, Keystone Health Plan East and QCC Insurance Company, and with Highmark Blue Shield — independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.   

Emotional Wellness

Our mind and body are intimately connected and ceaselessly interact with each other.  The capacity to achieve emotional wellness refers to the ability to effectively manage our mind and body despite challenge and change. Over the past year, we have experienced unprecedented challenge and change during the pandemic. Nearly every aspect of our world has been transformed. Surprise, anxiety, isolation, need for constant adjustment, depression and loss of control are commonly reported experiences. As such, the modest goals of happiness and self-healing are more important than ever. I have found that a combination of mindfulness techniques along with attention to physical health offers worthwhile options for self-care practices in these times.

Breathing:  Breathing is a powerful tool for influencing the nervous system. Even though we do not generally pay attention to our breath as it unfolds automatically, we can choose to consciously breathe a certain way, which can either act to calm or excite the nervous system. Two simple calming breathing exercises that can be easily learned are diaphragmatic breathing and anti-anxiety breathing.

Diet: Food is another form of self-care. Depending on which foods we eat, we can either our well-being or worsen it. A diet rich in complex carbohydrates (beans, oatmeal, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, protein, and many other plant foods) should be a goal. Besides providing nutrients, vitamins, and energy to the body, a diet including these foods helps maintain stable blood sugar, which is good for mood and concentration, along with regulating digestion and supporting the growth of “good” bacteria in the digestive tract.

Exercise: Exercise is another vital component of self-care. Our bodies are made to move — a function that has been challenged during this pandemic. Hundreds of studies demonstrate the benefits of regular exercise for overall health, wellbeing, and mood.  Exercise is a powerful form of treatment for depression and anxiety. It doesn’t matter what exercise you choose; any form of movement is beneficial. In fact, carrying home groceries can be a form of weightlifting, and cleaning your home a combination of flexibility training, endurance, and strength training.

Mediation:  The physical and mental benefits of meditation are noted by many scientists and laypersons alike. One simple example focusing on deep muscle relaxation is called progressive muscle relaxation.  This meditation goes through groups of muscles, tensing them for a few seconds and then very gradually releasing the tension. This action elicits a “relaxation response” that results in a more general level of emotional and mental calm.

Sleep: Sleep is also crucial for mental well-being. The brain secretes chemicals that enhance wellbeing and healthy brain function during sleep. Tissue repair, emotional processing, and growth (especially in children) happens at night. Depression and other mood disorders are clearly tied to normally functioning circadian rhythms. Sleep loss has also been reported to sometimes precede a depressed or manic episode.

Mental health support: The ability to explore your innermost thoughts, feelings, and worries without judgment is another form of self-care. The creation of a space for self-reflection, improved awareness, and the development of coping strategies is paramount. This space is unique to everyone; perhaps explore this space with a mental health professional, clergy, family member, or friend.   Expression is a release that allows us to decompress, heal, and grow.

The Philadelphia Crisis Line (215-685-6440) is a free, confidential, 24/7 mental health support hotline for individuals experiencing emotional distress. This service guides callers in navigating the behavioral health system in Philadelphia. We can help to connect individuals with referrals, make mobile team dispatches, or assist with more urgent support when necessary.

Take good care of YOU.

Author: Lisa Colton, Ph.D., Director of Crisis Related Services, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities. Lisa is a licensed Clinical Psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in a wide variety of clinical settings most recently as the Director of Crisis Related Services with DBHIDS. Her approach is integrative and has always supported a combination of wellness and meditative techniques with Western psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral techniques. 

Mindfulness and Joy

Video Transcription:

In the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, the main character played by Will Smith was often seen running – running from one station to the next in his pivotal pursuit of that which could make him happy. I personally thought the movie should have been called Running.

I read quote somewhere that said, as a culture we have become so obsessed with the pursuit of happiness, yet in the process, we kind of overlook joy. While some may say that joy and happiness are the same. Some may differ. I kind of think that happiness is a measure of how good we feel over time, while joy is how we feel in the present moment.

Like when you notice a multicolored rainbow in the sky, and you smile. Or when you notice a toddler who suddenly interrupts their play and starts dancing when they hear a beat, you laugh, or maybe join in with the joyous moment.

Joy is a primary component in our emotional and physical well-being. Joy allows us to have moments of appreciation, contentment, gratitude, and a sense of self confidence. On a scientific level, we feel joy in our bodies, when something makes us feel joy our brain release neurotransmitters that are responsible for processes and feelings in almost every aspect of the body, from blood flow to digestion.

Feeling more joy promotes a healthier lifestyle, boosts our immune system, fights stress and pain and supports longevity.  We all have times when we are just running – running to get to work, running from one meeting to the next, running to get home, running to make dinner, and sometimes even running to bed only to start it all over again.

I want to invite you find mindful moments each day to experience more joy. To laugh more, to smile more, appreciate more and stay in that moment for more than a passing second.  The benefits can be rewarding and long lasting.

By Fayetta McMillion-Jones, Health Promotion Program Coordinator