News Article Details

Savannah panel discusses mental health for people of color

Savannah Morning News - 7/31/2019

Around 40 people came to Butler Baptist Church on Monday night to take part in a difficult discussion: mental illness, and how it affects people of color.

The forum was the latest installment of the ELLA Foundation's Let's Talk Mental Illness series, which aims to highlight mental illnesses and how they affect different communities. In January the focus revolved around how trauma and mental illncess can affect younger minds.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only about 25 percent of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40 percent of white Americans who do so. For the Latino community, that number falls to around 20 percent.

Founded by Charity Lee, ELLA is a nonprofit organization based in Savannah. Their mission is to aid those who have been affected by violence, mental illness and the criminal justice system, according to their website.

Lee chose to sit out this talk though.

"Obviously, I am not a person of color," Lee said.

Tuesday's panel featured Beverly Aikens, a licensed associate professional counselor and pastor, Ruthie Deffley, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist and Vilma Castillo, a licensed clinical social worker. It was moderated by Dr. Corey Hicks, a speaker, coach, author, and a pharmaceutical professional.

The talk revolved around five topics that could prevent people of color with mental illness from getting help: racism, religion, poverty, violence and healthcare providers.

Aikens said racism can sometimes be the root cause of trauma.

"It causes all kinds of emotional issues," Aikens said. "When you're in a mode of struggle, it's going to cause abnormal thinking. It's going to cause you to see things in such a way that there appears to be no hope."

Castilo agreed, adding that in some cases, undocumented Hispanic immigrants can't get the help they need because they lack documentation.

"Racism creates a barrier," Deffley said. "There is a disparity between people trying to access the services and the people who provide the services. Predominately undocumented community here in Savannah. So they don't even have documents to access those resources."

"As we know, the political climate here has caused more fear for the Hispanic and Latino community," Castillo said. "So much that they don't even attempt to access any services."

The panel talked about the ways that religious beliefs can sometimes discourage people from getting professional help with mental health issues. Hicks said many times the church believes that God is enough.

"Being a pastor, and being in church all my life, we do tend to put a bandaid over our emotional problems, depression and anxiety, with a scripture, and we think that's going to be ok," Aikens said.

Aikens encourages fellow clergy members to get training on helping people deal with mental health issues.

"If we want to see the people of God do better, then we have to be better equipped to help them do better," Aikens said.

Deffley said in her practice she tries to use a person's religious beliefs as a source of strength -- something that can be incorporated into the healing process.

"Your God is not a God that wants you to be in bondage," Deffley said. "Your God is not a God that wants to see you suffer."

The panel fielded questions from the audience intermittently throughout the event. One audience member asked about the generational distrust of mental health services in the African American community, and how to reverse that stigma.

"You have to go against what you've been taught," Aikens said. "All this negative thoughts and teachings from our parents, our ancestors, it will keep you from going forward."

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(c)2019 Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.)

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