You’ve Got This: Five Tips for Setting Achievable Resolutions

It’s a good idea to set goals at the beginning of the year. In fact, research shows that people are more motivated to make changes at the start of a year, a month or a week. Beginnings encourage us to muster our focus and resolve.

But research also shows that we’re unlikely to persevere unless we anticipate and plan for obstacles ahead of time, says Benjamin Converse of the University of Virginia. If the goal is to lose weight, for example, we might need to carve out the time and money to plan meals and grocery shop for healthy ingredients in order to maintain a home cooking routine.

How can we keep our good intentions alive, without quitting our goals and feeling worse about ourselves than before we started? Success is not necessarily a reflection on who you are as a person, says Ayelet Fishbach, professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Success can depend on being at the right place and time with the right people.

To help you along, we offer some advice from Independence Blue Cross Medical Directors Reetika Kumar, MD, FACP and Ryan Connolly, MD, MS; as well as academics who have researched the science of motivation.

1. Set positive and realistic goals.

It’s actually very hard to just stop doing something, particularly when it has become a habit,” says Dr. Connolly. A key approach is to commit to a positive habit that’s incompatible with the one you’re trying to get rid of. So, instead of deciding to “stop lazing in bed every morning,” it is much better to decide to exercise every morning at 7am. “It’s very hard to lie in bed while exercising!” he adds.

In addition, it’s important to set realistic goals, says Dr. Kumar. “Don’t set yourself up for failure. Losing the 20 pounds you’ve gained in the past year can’t be done in a month, but maybe a 1-2 pound a week goal will keep you going.”

2. Monitor your progress and see where you are at the midpoint.

If you need to adjust your goals, have the flexibility to do so. To-do lists can be helpful when one item motivates you to do the next one but keep sight of your priorities. University of Virginia professor Leidy Klotz has found that it’s often more important to remove items from your list than to add new ones.

3. Don’t work at cross purposes.

Make sure your rewards don’t sabotage your goals, Dr. Kumar says. “If you’re trying to lose weight, have your reward be a new pair of jeans rather than an all-you-can -eat buffet at your favorite restaurant.”

4. Seek social support.

Surround yourself with people who can help you succeed. Find a buddy who shares your goals and can keep you motivated, Dr. Kumar says. An accountability partner can help you stick to your goals.

5. Pair the hard work with something you like to do.

Based on the work of behavioral scientists Katy Milkman, Julia Minson, and Kevin Volpp, the technique of bundling temptations recognizes that we struggle to do what’s distasteful in the moment, but we can reach our goals by relying on short-term gratification rather than willpower.

If you find it hard to exercise, for example, pair it with listening to your favorite music or podcast. Need to stop putting off studying? Reward yourself with a favorite TV show if you finish by 9:00 pm. Don’t feel like raking leaves? Challenge a family member to a competition and the winner gets to pick the evening movie.

The goal is to “take the fun that might typically distract us from our goals and use it to transform an obstacle into an enticement,” Milkman says.

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

The Power of Talk: Erasing the Stigma of Suicide

Jason was happily married and a proud father of three who seemed to have everything to live for. So, his family was shocked when he died by suicide. They had no idea he had been struggling with depression.

Because admitting mental illness still carries a stigma in many circles, Jason’s story is not unique. The highest proportion of suicides in America is among middle-aged white men. They die by suicide almost four times more often than women, accounting for 69 percent of U.S. suicide deaths in 2020. But the number of Black teens of both sexes who have attempted suicide rose 73 percent between 1991 and 2017, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth between ages 12 and 18.

“Generally, when people don’t talk about depression or suicidal feelings, it’s because they don’t feel safe,” says H. Jean Wright II, PsyD, Deputy Commissioner of Philadelphia’s Behavioral Health and Justice Division and Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.

“Often people say there were no signs,” Dr. Wright says. “That’s an indication we may be having conversations, but it isn’t specific, so we don’t always realize the person is reaching out or feeling out whether this a safe person. They might be talking about challenges, but not saying, ‘I’m feeling depressed.’ They may not name it, and most of us are not looking to hear it, so we don’t pick up on hints. So, a lot of times, paying attention to changes in behavior is more of a red flag.”

Of course, being able to detect changes in someone’s personality or other common symptoms of depression, such as changes to their sleeping or eating habits, requires a close relationship.

Learn to Recognize the Signs

Mental Health First Aid can help teach us what to look for and what to say. Philadelphia was the first big city to bring the program to scale by offering it widely, with the goal being to teach people the signs and symptoms of behavioral health challenges, including mental illness and substance use disorder, so that people in need can be referred for professional help. The class is both online and in person, with versions tailored to people who work with veterans, children and youth, public safety, colleges/universities, and faith-based organizations.

When talking with someone about suicide, be genuine and lead with concern, Dr. Wright says. “Use ‘I’ statements – ‘I’m concerned’ and back it up with examples: ‘Normally, we have coffee together, and I haven’t seen you coming in. Is there something you’d like to share with me? I just want you to know I care about you, and I’m here to talk.’ They might be testing the waters to see who is willing to go down the road with them. Then you have to be there when they need you.”

Bringing up the topic of suicide isn’t likely to introduce the idea to a person in pain. “They’re actually relieved that people bring it up,” Dr. Wright says. “I wouldn’t go there immediately. Start with concern, and the next questions might lead up to it. Ask, ‘Have you thought about suicide? If they respond with a ‘yes,’ then ask, do you have a plan? Do you have the means to carry it out?’” You’re assessing how serious the plan is and whether they have the means to carry out a plan. If so, then you know it’s an emergency.

Public Discussion Helps Erase Stigma

Public conversations are also important because they can encourage and give strength to people who might not have close personal relationships. One study of the effectiveness of an anti-stigma social marketing campaign in California found that social media posts led more individuals to interpret their symptoms of distress as requiring treatment.

Fortunately, stigma around seeking help for mental illness is lower among younger people. A 2020 national survey found that 90 percent of teens and young adults experiencing symptoms of depression are researching mental health issues online, and most are seeking out other people’s health stories through blogs, podcasts, and videos.

Numerous celebrities, from Michael Phelps and Demi Lovato to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Lady Gaga, are sharing their struggles with depression, highlighting the issue and helping to spread the message that depression can affect anyone — even those who seem to have it all.

“Suicide is not a respecter of a person’s age, race, or religion — it impacts all of humanity,” Dr. Wright says. Families, organizations, and faith communities can all be safe spaces to talk. “People need to know it’s okay to not be okay.”

If You Need Help

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK, (8255) or call or text the new 988.

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

Avoiding the Holiday Pressure to Drink

The holiday season can be a difficult time for many people – especially for the 18 million Americans who have an alcohol use disorder as holiday celebrations often center around alcohol. The CDC has found that the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day sees a dramatic increase in DUI offenses and other alcohol-related issues. Seventy percent of people report higher alcohol use during the last two weeks of December.

People drink for many reasons. They may drink to feel relaxed, because they enjoy the taste, or because they feel pressured to drink socially. And some people may choose to use these celebrations as an excuse to drink more than usual. 

If you think alcohol is problematic for you, want to avoid drinking too much during the holidays, or just aren’t the biggest drinker, here are some strategies for navigating holiday celebrations.

Skip the risky parties

If an event is going to be a cocktail party or it’s at a bar, try to avoid it. If you choose to go, most bartenders have great recipes for mocktails. It’s important not to isolate yourself because that can lead to depression, which might tempt you to drink. Be selective about which holiday gatherings you attend. If you know a certain party has the potential to get out of control, it’s probably best to avoid it.

Drink something fun 

There are many festive alcohol-free mocktails to choose from. It can feel awkward if you are the only one at a party without a drink in hand. Come up with a favorite non-alcoholic beverage to order or bring your own sparkling water to enjoy. 

Be assertive

Learn how to say no and stick to it. Some people find that having a phrase that doesn’t allow further conversation is helpful. These could include, “I’m trying to get healthy” or “I’m the designated driver.”

Make sure you have social support

Let your family and friends know about your plans to avoid alcohol. Support is crucial for maintaining sobriety. Think about attending extra therapy sessions or group meetings during the holiday season. You can visit the Alcoholics Anonymous to find a meeting near you

Watch out for stressful moments

Family events can be very stressful. This can cause people to drink when they don’t plan to. Be aware and prepare for these situations.

Suggest different activities

Instead of going to holiday parties invite your friends to something you can enjoy that doesn’t involve alcohol. These can be things like dinner, movies, or ice-skating.

Care for yourself

Keep your normal routines during the holidays. Be sure to get enough sleep and exercise to keep the holiday blues from sneaking up on you.

Don’t forget to keep others safe this season. If you think a friend or family member may have had too much to drink and plans to drive home, don’t be afraid to tell them that you are concerned for their safety and the safety of others. 

About the Author: Ashley Rock is the program coordinator for the Single County Authority at DBHIDS and an advocate for all paths to recovery in her personal and professional life.

Original Article here: https://healthymindsphilly.org/blog/avoiding-the-holiday-pressure-to-drink/

Behavioral Health at Any Age: No One Needs to Struggle Alone

Many areas of behavioral health can be something of a mystery to the general public. Myths and misconceptions about mental health and substance use are often significant obstacles to looking out for the well-being of ourselves and our loved ones. Talking about suicide does NOT plant the idea in someone’s head. Many mental health conditions are preventable. Depression is NOT a normal part of aging.

Let’s focus on that last one. It’s worth repeating; experiencing feelings of depression is not a given as we grow older. However, behavioral health problems like depression often go undiagnosed in older adults.

Older adults as well as their loved ones and even their healthcare providers sometimes dismiss symptoms of depression as “normal” signs of frailty – inevitably, our bodies grow physically weaker as we age. However, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)notes that many equivocate symptoms of depression with the physical weaknesses of aging, leading them to ignore these indicators of a potential mental health issue.

Others believe that feelings of depression are just the natural result of changes in life that typically happen to older adults. Major life events more common to older adults – such as retirement, the death of a loved one, or moving out of the family home – can be stressors that impact our behavioral health.

Facing the loss of someone or something important to us, we all feel sadness at times, but such episodes need not necessarily lead to depression. In fact, “many older adults will eventually adjust to the changes. But some people will have more trouble adjusting,” says the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Being unable to grieve and move on to prior feelings after a loss may be a sign of depression – in individuals of any age.

So What IS Different About Depression in Older Adults?

  • Just as symptoms of depression may differ between women and men, older adults may experience a different range of symptoms than younger individuals. Memory problems, confusion, vague complaints of pain, and/or delusions (“fixed false beliefs”) can indicate depression in older adults in addition to more typical symptoms such as loss of appetite, inability to sleep, or irritability (National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)).
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)reports that depression is more common in those who have another illness, and “we know that about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more.” This higher likelihood of having a physical illness puts older adults at greater risk of depression.
  • For older adults, the interplay of mental and physical health issues works both ways – not only does the presence of some chronic illnesses increase the likelihood of experiencing a behavioral health condition, but some mental health problems like depression – if untreated – can increase risk for heart disease, suppress the immune system, and elevate the danger of infection (NAMI).
  • The World Health Organization points out that while older adults may experience the stressors common to everyone that can weigh against behavioral health, they may also experience stressors unique to them. Reduced mobility, chronic pain, bereavement, change in socioeconomic status due to retirement, and frailty or other health problems are all additional factors that can have a negative impact on the mental health or substance use of older adults.

Closing the “Treatment Gap”

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) describes a “treatment gap:” while at least 1 in 4 older adults experience some mental health problem, two-thirds of those individuals do not receive the treatment they need. The first step in connecting those struggling with their behavioral health to treatment and recovery options is to identify the issue.

A great place to start if you’re worried about your mental health or substance use – or that of a loved one – is with a quick, anonymous online behavioral health screening. In about two minutes, you can find out if what you’re experiencing is consistent with symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other behavioral health conditions. If you’re concerned about a loved one – regardless of their age – encourage them to take a screening. No one needs to struggle alone.

If you or a loved one needs immediate mental health or addiction support, do not hesitate to call your insurance company or family doctor, or call 888-545-2600 if you have Medicaid coverage. You can find additional resources that support older adult mental health here.

If your loved one is ever in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the word, “ACT” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741

Original Article here: https://healthymindsphilly.org/blog/behavioral-health-at-any-age-no-one-needs-to-struggle-alone/

Finding the Right Type of Mental Health Provider

The demand for mental health services has skyrocketed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the U.S. faces a chronic shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. As a result, 65 percent of mental health organizations reported having to cancel, reschedule, or turn away patients in 2020.

In order to fill the gap, some primary care offices have developed collaborative care models. With these models an affiliated psychologist or social worker provides therapy and patient management and consults with a psychiatrist on medications. Other health care providers are undertaking additional mental health training to meet patient needs.

Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Therapist: Which Do You Need?

Determining the right mental health provider can be confusing. Should you see a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a therapist? What exactly is the difference? The first difference is whether a professional specializes in prescribing medication, providing therapy, or both.

Prescribers and therapists are both mental health professionals whose expertise is the mind and the way it affects behavior and well-being. They often work together to diagnose and treat a patient. For example, a patient might see a psychiatrist who prescribes medication for depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or bipolar disorder, and also work with another mental health professional for psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counseling.

Prescribers

Psychiatrists are physicians (M.D. or D.O.) who specialize in the assessment and treatment of the biological, psychological, and social factors that lead to behavioral health conditions. A psychiatrist may prescribe medication and may provide therapy as well. Often, the psychiatrist prescribes medication and acts as the leader of a treatment team that may include other professionals who provide therapy.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners are another kind of professional that can prescribe medication for behavioral health conditions. They have a master’s of science in nursing or doctor of nursing practice degree with specialized focus on psychiatry. They provide diagnosis and therapy for mental health conditions and can prescribe medications independently or under the supervision of a medical doctor, depending on the state.

Therapists

Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy, or just “therapy”) helps people deal with various mental illnesses and emotional difficulties. Therapy can help eliminate or control troubling symptoms so a person can function better. Depending on the issue, therapy can be short-term (a few sessions), or long-term (months or years). Psychotherapy is often used in combination with medication to treat mental health conditions. Therapy can be provided by several different kinds of professionals:

Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology and know how to evaluate and treat behavioral health disorders, but generally are not licensed to prescribe medication. In order to receive their license, psychologists also complete an internship with specific training in behavioral therapy and other methods of treatment. Once licensed, a psychologist is qualified to provide psychotherapy, counseling, psychological testing, and mental health disorder treatment.

Master’s level professionals

Licensed clinical social workers have a master’s or doctoral degree in social work and also complete two years of postgraduate supervised clinical work to become licensed. They are trained to evaluate and treat mental health issues, provide individual and group counseling, and like other therapists have varied specializations.

Licensed professional counselors and licensed marriage and family therapists are qualified to provide counseling or psychotherapy for mental health treatment. They have a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field, plus at least two years of postgraduate training working alongside a qualified mental health professional.

This list is not exhaustive and requirements often vary by state. It’s also important to note that your behavioral health is often best managed by a team that communicates well and uses each area of expertise to take care of you as a whole.

Getting Started

Your primary care provider is a great place to start discussing your mental health concerns. They are well-equipped to assess mental health needs and prescribe necessary medications, or to refer you to an appropriate specialist for counseling or psychotherapy.

In addition, many Employee Assistance Programs can be a source of mental health services to help employees with emotional and substance use issues, interpersonal relationships, legal problems, or financial difficulties. These services might be delivered in person, by telephone, or via online platforms.

There are also companies available, like Quartet*, that use specialized technology to help people more easily find and access care that’s right for them. Quartet does not provide direct mental health care. It works with health plans, like Independence Blue Cross, to match members with licensed mental health providers and programs that meet their needs and preferences, and accept their health insurance.

In summary, there are different types of support available to people seeking mental and behavioral support, and there are professionals skilled in getting you to the right provider. It all begins with that first call.

For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.*Quartet is an independent company.

SAD: It’s More Common Than You Think

Have you experienced changes in appetite, trouble sleeping, low energy, and difficulty concentrating? How about feeling sad or not like your usual self? Do you notice feeling a bit down as the fall/winter arrives and days get shorter? If so, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (also know as “the winter blues”). and it’s more common than you may think.

What is SAD?

SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a form of seasonal depression most apparent by changes in your mood and behavior when the seasons change. For most cases of SAD, symptoms begin in late fall or early winter and go away in spring and summer. This is referred to as winter-pattern SAD. Some experience depressive episodes in the spring and summer called summer-pattern SAD.

One important thing to remember is that it is more common than you think. 

Who gets SAD?

It is estimated to affect 10 million people yearly. SAD occurs more often in women than men, and more often in people who live further north of the equator.

Amongst these millions, many may experience the symptoms, but not know they have it.

What can I do if I am experiencing symptoms of SAD?

If you experience symptoms, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider and/or mental health counselor. If you are comfortable confiding in family and friends, reach out for support there in addition to your providers.

How is SAD typically treated?

Treatment for SAD usually consists of (stand alone or combination) light therapy, vitamin D, talk therapy, and antidepressants.

What can I do to prepare?

Here are my best tips and tricks. I’ve applied these techniques and used them as my own personal SAD survival guide. 

In no particular order… **drumroll please **

  1. Self-compassion: Be kind and patient with yourself. The changes can feel heavy, so it is important to be as gentle, nurturing, and as good to yourself as you can.
  2. Plenty of rest: Honor your body. Make sure you get a full night’s rest to help override the symptoms of restlessness
  3. Essential oils: Add some eucalyptus and/or lavender essential oil to your routine. I love to use a few drops in the shower and in my humidifier. 
  4. Vitamins B12 and D: Great for energy and immunity (consult your health care provider before use/interactions)
  5. Exercise: Any amount you can do will be good for the mind and body. Exercise produces endorphins to help lift your vibes and will also relax you. You can do a 30-minute workout if you feel up to it, or even a walk.
  6. Meditation: Five to 10 minutes a day of meditation will help relieve some of your symptoms including difficulty concentrating and blues. Meditation increases focus, relaxation, and energy.
  7. Light therapy box: These are a game changer. You can use it for 30 minutes a day for relief of symptoms. These lamps stimulate the sun which provides vitamin D and raises serotonin levels. It’s great to do while sipping morning coffee or tea and has been super helpful.
  8. Talk therapy: Schedule regular visits with your mental health provider. 

Original article: https://healthymindsphilly.org/blog/sad-its-more-common-than-you-think/

Act to Curb Election Anxiety

Feeling anxious about the upcoming midterm elections? You’re not alone. Prior to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, more than two-thirds of Americans surveyed reported that the election was a significant source of tension in their lives. People across the political spectrum felt anxious, including 76 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of Independents.

Take Action and Vote!

“The best action to take for election anxiety? Volunteer, talk to people about the issues that matter most to you, and vote!” says clinical psychologist Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D.

The American Psychological Association offers the following additional evidence-based advice:

  • Uncertainty is stressful, so don’t dwell on things you can’t control. Avoid imagining worst-case scenarios.
  • Focus on what you can control. Monitor your media consumption, and limit highly charged content.
  • Engage in activities or issues that are meaningful to you.
  • Stay socially connected. Spend time with friends and family.
  • Stay physically active.
  • Realize that you might not know the election results right away. Keep busy with other activities and social support, so you aren’t continually checking for “bad news.”

Recognizing Tension

Stress affects us in a variety of ways. “We notice it in our bodies, the tension in our shoulders,” said Robert Bright, MD, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, of the stress leading up to the October 2020 presidential election. “Sometimes people get GI [gastrointestinal] upset or headaches. People have trouble sleeping. There’s a lot of sleep disturbance going on right now — tossing, turning, and worrying, and not being able to get to sleep — or having bad dreams about the election.”

Dr. Bright added that television, radio, and social media ads flood us with catastrophic messages about the candidates that heighten our sense of anxiety and can feel overwhelming. “And it affects our emotions after a while. So, we start getting irritable and short, and snapping at people, not trusting people, seeing people as [either] the other or as the same. And that starts affecting our relationships at home. It starts affecting our work.”

“Our stress level is something we need to take seriously,” says Dr. Chansky. “Many of us never got that much-needed re-set from the earlier years of the pandemic. And we’re also still dealing with ongoing COVID cases, climate crises, war, and disruption. Even if these events don’t seem to be affecting us directly, we’re still processing them — and our emotional and physical resources are being strained.”

Check Your Facts and Have Hope

Compartmentalization is a key skill for emotional well-being,” Dr. Chansky says. “Particularly when something is causing us ongoing stress, it doesn’t help to think about it all the time. But it does serve us to address it at designated times — what we may think of as ‘worry appointments.’

“At those times, write out your feelings about the election and fact-check them against what you know,” Dr. Chansky advises. Choose to have hope, she suggests, even if it’s not your natural inclination. Hope is not about imagining a particular election outcome. Rather, it’s a way of life and a continual commitment to not give up.

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

An Anxious Generation: Anxiety in Teens and Young Adults

Adults with jobs and family responsibilities may long for the carefree days of youth, but studies show that today’s young adults have plenty of worries of their own.

According to a University of California, San Francisco study of 2,809 young adults ages 18 to 25 nearly half (48 percent) reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. Among those with symptoms, 39 percent reported using prescription medications and/or receiving counseling, and 36 percent reported unmet counseling needs.

Separating from one’s parents and leaving home have always been anxiety-provoking experiences, but today’s young people have less privacy as they make these major transitions, learning and growing under the unforgiving eye of peers and even strangers on social media.

“It’s expected that adolescents test their social interactions,” says Dario V. LaRocca, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and Independence Blue Cross Behavioral Health Medical Director. “Traditionally, it would be in a dorm with people you know. But with social media, you never really know who you’re talking to or where they’re coming from. Without body language or social cues, it’s easy to make a mistake that gets picked up and amplified,” says Dr. LaRocca, who is also the father of three daughters, ages 20 to 31.

Online Pressures

Having a presence on social media often forces people to pretend to be someone they’re not. Faith Attig, 21, a student at Penn State University’s Abington campus and an intern in Independence’s Corporate Communications department says, “There’s pressure to create a brand — to be somebody and to be perfect online even when you’re not.” At the same time, “there’s pressure to be authentic, because people are so quick to judge and call you out.”

As a result, “a lot of my generation likes to disappear [digitally],” Attig says. “We don’t like people to know where we are. Life gets to be too much.”

But social media is just one part of the conversation about rising rates of anxiety in teens and young adults. Researchers and social critics have proposed other potential contributors, from economic and environmental uncertainty and overprotective parents to poor diets and sedentary lifestyles.

Anxiety today is more prone to push people to isolate, LaRocca says, a trend that has been amplified by the pandemic. Fortunately, there is less stigma around depression and anxiety with this generation. “I’m surprised by how quickly people are ready to acknowledge it [mental health issues],” he says.

Ways to Cope

One important way to cope with anxiety and depression is to take a break from social media and create a life outside of the internet, Dr. LaRocca says. “Find friends you can talk to offline, whom you can trust. And if you feel overwhelmed, meet with a professional, ideally in person. Talk to people of different generations in person to get a different perspective.” You can keep in touch online, Dr. LaRocca says, “but being with people in person is still important, and can help reduce anxiety by reducing isolation.”

Other coping mechanisms include:

If You Need Help

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK, (8255) or call or text the new 988.

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

The Black Paradise Project: Countering the Mental Health Impact of Racism with Black Joy

As Philadelphia comes to grips with the mental health impacts of racism, how can we create a productive path forward?

One unique initiative, the Porchlight Program of Mural Arts Philadelphia, put out a call for a psychologist and visual artist to develop a project to address mental health issues within the Black community. In response, counseling psychologist Kimberly Marie Ashby, PhD, and visual artist Yannick Lowery created the Black Paradise Project. The project aims to reduce the mental health burden of exposure to racism by providing opportunities for Black people to share their experiences and engage in joy.

“Anti-Blackness is a serious problem,” says Dr. Ashby, whose research focuses on racial trauma and its effects on mental health. “A lot of the literature demonstrates that engagement in joyful activities — specifically activities that allow you to feel connected to others and put you in a state of flow and mindfulness — allow people to create a life worth living, despite the fact that they are negatively impacted by racism.”

Providing Relief During a Time of Turmoil

With input from Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities Services, the Black Paradise Project organizes a variety of events, from dance and yoga to nature hikes and reflective writing workshops. People of all ages and communities throughout Philadelphia attend these activities. “Our events have the goal to help people find peace and relief, especially during a time of racial turmoil,” artist Lowery says.

Lowery is incorporating images from the organization’s events during the past year into a mural that will be installed in West Philadelphia. The mural’s composition will demonstrate the methods that members of the Black community have used to “find paradise.”

The adult Black community is 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems such as major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, according to Thomas A. Vance, PhD, of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry. The increased incidence of psychological difficulties, Vance says, is related to the lack of access to culturally responsive mental health care and prejudice inherent in the daily environment, as well as issues related to economic insecurity and the associated experiences, such as violence and criminal injustice.

Racial trauma is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, but it’s never-ending,” Dr. Ashby notes. In a culture that often demands a show of strength and resilience, “There’s never any room for softness or vulnerability,” she says. “True freedom is being able to be fully human.”

The Black Mental Health Anthology Project

To reduce the stigma of seeking care and to help people cope, the Black Paradise Project launched the Finding Paradise: A Black Mental Health Anthology project this spring. From 30 submissions of visual art, essays, and poetry, Lowery and Ashby chose 19 to appear in a digital and printed anthology known as Finding Paradise: A Black Mental Health Anthology.

.The work is powerful. In “I’ll Show You the Way,” award-winning artist Afi Ese, of Houston, Texas, holder of a master of science degree in forensic psychology, depicts a dark bird covering a man’s head like a headdress. The image invites viewers to decide if the figure is wearing the animal or perhaps directing him.

In the 2018 poem, “You have that Depression thing, right?” Ailisha Sher of Philadelphia writes, “When sadness walks in/Grey is the only color I can wear without fear of a witch-hunt, and/Trees become helpless victims to intense bear hugs because at least trees can’t run away from me.”

“I was blown away” by the submissions, Lowery says. “I didn’t expect people to be so vulnerable. I think people can benefit from these and realize that they’re not alone.”

“I’ll Show You the Way,” Afi Ese
Source: Finding Paradise: A Black Mental Health Anthology. © The Black Paradise Project. blackparadiseproject.com/anthology

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