Mind Matters: Mental Health and the African American Community

One of the reasons I started to work at Girard Medical Center was so I could better understand my mother’s addiction and depression. She behaved in ways I did not understand. I always wondered what made her so critical, mean, and sad.

In fact, I did not understand why a lot of people in my family acted the way they did.

Growing up, I heard a lot of code words being used for mental health. For example: “Don’t mess with her, she doesn’t take no stuff” or “You know something is wrong with her or him”. I would witness bizarre behavior within my family and neighborhood.

As I grew up and experienced my own mental health concerns, I began reading self-help books. But self-help books still left me with a lot of unanswered questions such as: “Why do people hurt children” and “How come some drunk folks become violent.” Sometimes I would listen to motivational speakers and felt great for as long as they were speaking.

When I started working at my job, I learned a lot about mental health. I learned about trauma and how it can create a chaotic person. I learned the value of peer support and how therapy can help people dealing with mental health concerns.

It is my belief that in the Black community mental health is still viewed as taboo. The fear and shame of admitting they have mental health challenges is a barrier and cause for many to not seek help.

Fear of what others will think of them or the things they will think of themselves stems from a common ideology within my community to not tell your business to strangers, to have better faith in God, and to pray your problems away.

A fear of being seen as weak with possible consequences of our children being taken away, and the mistrust we have of people outside of the community are all factors that drive the disconnect between mental health and the Black community. We have socialized dysfunction that has become normal behavior with some folks who live in fear and have very little faith that they have the ability to recreate their life.

Fear is only false evidence appearing to be real. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you are in distress. We all have the ability to recreate our lives. I know I was not living my best life and I was capable of so much more. I learned that while in therapy. 

So I allowed others to help me help myself.

You don’t have to operate from a place of dysfunction and fear. We all have the ability to make our lives better and become contributing members of society. Don’t let pride and shame stop you from seeking help to help you become the best version of yourself.

Do you realize the powerful impact you will have in your family and the community with a stable mind?

About the Author: Imani Badie is a lived-experience consultant. She is a Community Recovery Specialist for the Miracles in Progress program at the Be Well Health Center at Girard Medical Center.

Original article: https://healthymindsphilly.org/blog/mind-matters-mental-health-and-the-african-american-community/

Tips for Helping AAPI Parents Talk About Mental Health

*Content warning: Contains disclosure of behaviors of self-harm. 

“You are too much! And you talk too much!” was what I was told as a child when I expressed my feelings.

My parents emigrated from the Philippines and wanted the best for their six children: rigorous education, fine clothing, and a spacious home. They were advised by the pediatrician not to teach us their native language, warning it would cause confusion. I pinpoint this advice as the cause for our home’s emotional deficiency. It created a dynamic of tense silences, suspicion, and rivalries about everything from chores to college choices. My siblings were not my allies or advocates. I was intimidated, ruled over, and ridiculed. 

It was a priority to maintain appearances of mastery and stoicism, even interpersonally. When I would be overwhelmed with run-of-the-mill developmental anxieties such as the first day of school, there was no vocabulary for this. Make no mistake, my parents were loving and expressive. For me this looked like being spoon-fed by my father until first grade and through shopping trips with my mother. Their care was concrete and lavish.   

When it came to mental and emotional health, however, things were compartmentalized: If I wanted to stay home from school because of test anxiety,  I was said to be “faking it” unless I had a fever. Or my itchy skin patches were treated with steroid cream when really I just hated being ridiculed for “being so sensitive.” There had to be somatic proof. Sometimes this led to self-harm: scratching to the point of bleeding or abusing sleeping pills. It was a painful cycle.  

The self-harm or cycle is preventable. It can be interrupted. How? 

1. Understand intergenerational trauma.

Intergenerational trauma is the transmission of racial distress from parent to child. It is usually unspoken. For example, a child can feel sad and scared watching her father place an order at McDonald’s or trying to help grandmother schedule a doctor’s appointment due to language barriers. These examples do not seem to be traumatic. However, they can be profoundly overwhelming. 

2. Regularly discuss internalized oppression. 

Internalized oppression is self-hatred due to perceived racial inferiority. This is an effect of colonization, enslavement, and white-centering/white supremacy. Notice how your child idolizes people with whom they are in stark contrast: “I see that you adore Rapunzel’s golden hair, but I adore your black tresses.”

3. Normalize identifying racism.

Identify racism. There can be a myth within the AAPI community that, because Asians are perceived as white-adjacent, racism does not occur. Parents/caregivers must call things what they are. It empowers children to know about microaggressions and how to handle them resiliently. 

4. Frequently ask: Is this developmentally appropriate? 

Define suffering and sacrifice in terms that make sense to your child. It is commonly said, “My parents have sacrificed so much for me to have a better life, so I must also sacrifice.” This is harmful because the term “sacrifice” is weighty and not proportional to a developing child’s understanding. Help your child create a small, manageable world in which they can flourish.  Identify and praise their effort and growth, however small.

About the Author: Maria Beatty completed Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Training and booster training under Yale Medical School’s Carrie Epstein, MA, as well as Completed Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools Plus Racial Trauma Module by the Center for Safe and Resilient Schools under Won Fong Lau-Johnson, Ph.D. and Audra Langely, Ph.D. This spring will mark her three year work-a-versary at Hall Mercer. 

Original article: https://healthymindsphilly.org/blog/tips-for-helping-aapi-parents-talk-about-mental-health/

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.

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