mental health

I cannot stand the words “Get over it”. All of us are under such pressure to put our problems in the past tense. Slow down. Don’t allow others to hurry your healing. It is a process, one that may take years, occasionally, even a lifetime and that’s OK.” Beau Taplin

After the past 15 months of not knowing which way the wind would and will continue to blow carrying a disease that has taken the lives of approximately 630,000 Americans, it is OK to first recognize how we may not understand how uncertainty and isolation have changed our lives, and especially the children.  The test is NOW as we try to present a rational reason why students should fight to get caught up from a year of little socialization and for many without access to on-line learning with a curriculum of relevant competencies.

For many African American adults and youth caretakers, the test is attempting to navigate recovery at the intersection of mental health and one’s experience as a member of the Black community.  While the experiences of being Black in America varies tremendously, there are shared cultural factors that play a role in helping define mental health and supporting well-being, resiliency, and healing. Our ancestors certainly provided great role models.  Where are our role models today?

Another part of this shared experience is facing racism, discrimination, and inequality that can significantly affect one’s perception of their identity and the value placed on their humanity.  Being treated or considered as “less than” because of their skin hue and the historical gaping disparities can be stressful and even traumatizing.  In addition, Black communities face structural challenges accessing the care and treatment. They may also be more likely to identify and describe physical symptoms related to mental health problems.  A health care provider who is not culturally competent might not recognize t symptoms possibly related to mood disorders or PTSD.  When meeting with a provider, it can be helpful to ask questions to get a sense of their level of cultural awareness.   

African Americans have historically been negatively affective by prejudice and discrimination in the U.S. health care system.  Unfortunately, many Black people still have negative experiences when they attempt to seek treatment.  Provider bias, both conscious and unconscious, and a lack of cultural competency can result in misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment.  This ultimately can lead to mistrust of mental health professionals and create a barrier for many to engage in treatment.  That also includes the hesitancy to take any COVID19 vaccine.

For many in the Black communities, it can be incredibly challenging to discuss the topic of mental health due to concern about how they may be viewed by others.  This fear could prevent people from seeking mental health care when they really need it.  A recent study disclosed 63% of Blacks believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness.  That’s the stigma. And it is the reason we must change our attitudes not only for ourselves but for future generations.

Here are a few mental health tips and activities that can begin to help us all walk down that road of healing and finding new ways of parenting and self-care; building a stronger work ethic and one’s own faith; and more importantly garnering the determination to experience joy, success, changes, and rewards to individually and collectively move forward with decency, integrity, and commonsense.

ü Positive thinking about a situation can help manage stress and improve one’s health.

ü Routinely eating healthy and getting enough sleep can prevent both physical and mental health conditions.

ü Practice mindfulness focusing on what’s happening in the present moment. 

ü Keep moving.  Exercise can improve your mood and sleep. 

ü If alcohol affects your mood or your ability to interact with friends or get things done, limit its usage.

ü Focus on gratitude.  If you’re having a day where nothing seems to be going right, take a minute.  Breathe.  Think of things you’re grateful for.

ü Connect with others.  If you feel isolated and overwhelmed, talking to a loved one or support group can help.  There are even virtual support groups available.

How about trying something new?

Designate time that’s specifically for winding down.  A movie or a toffee nut latte while you sit and watch the world move past you might not be a bad idea.

Give in to the power of music.  Getting a boost of serotonin by simply listening to your favorite tune or having fun with karaoke.  Shaking out stress through a little two-step helps wind down the day.

Push yourself to take the time to get into a good book, perhaps a memoir where you can get lost in someone else’s personal story in their own words. 

Practice being present throughout your day.  Make it a point to prioritize being in the NOW!  Disconnect electronics for several hours at the end of the day.  Scents - a candle or diffuser - brings peace grounding a positive mood.

Move your body in whatever ways brings you joy.  A long walk with your dog after work or exploring mother nature are great de-stressors and a healthy alternative.

Turn to your support system.  Community has been key during the pandemic.  Connections help people know they are not alone. Reframe self-care as an act of self-preservation. 

Keeping a schedule with a hard start and stop times.  Delineate a separate workplace in your home you can leave.  Keep a time for self-care along with family and work.

Practice the opposite emotion of what you’re feeling.  Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) involves identifying an emotion you want to change and intentionally choosing an activity that is the opposite of that emotion like watching a comedy when you’re sad.

Find a playful yet soothing hobby.  Take pride in surrounding self with things personally built, painted, or created.

Fill your own cup first in the morning.  Enjoy a warm or chilled beverage while you set daily intentions, express thanksgiving, and perhaps recite affirmations for that extra boost of confidence.  

Suggested Reading

Eloquent Rage:  A Black Feminist Discover Her Superpower by Dr. Brittney Cooper

How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijjeoma Oluo

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The New Jim Crow:  Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

The Next American Revolution:  Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

When Affirmative Action was White:  An Untold History of Racial Inequality in the Twentieth-America by Ira Katznelson

White Fragility:  Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Tune in to The Healing Circle, co-hosted by the African American Child Wellness Institute (AACWI) and presented by  Conversations with Al McFarlane Fridays at 1pm Central on Facebook/Insight News.

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