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Minority Mental Health in the spotlight next month

Herald-Journal - 8/16/2019

Aug. 17--Dallas Conyers is on a crusade to change the way Spartanburg's minority community thinks about its mental health.

And she's got plenty of help.

An Associate Minister at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, Conyers is planning an expanded slate of sessions next month, with the help of the Spartanburg Chapter of the NAACP, focused on the mental health of African American men, women and children.

The "U Good? Minority Mental Health Series," will feature four different sessions: Get Your Mind Right from 6-9 p.m. on Sept. 19, at HAD Lounge at 1059 Fernwood Glendale Road in Spartanburg, and a meditation focused session from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Westside Library.

For the Fellas Only will be held from 6:30-8 p.m. at Harley Room at 151 S. Church St. in Spartanburg, and a Youth Day Sept. 28.

Multiple clinicians will be available at each session. Conyers said the point is to begin a conversation about topics that are sometimes viewed as taboo within the black community.

"You could say that the entire topic of mental health and mental illness has been stigmatized, especially in African American communities," Conyers said. "There's this idea that we should just be strong enough to deal with, but there's a lot of reasons why that's not the best way to approach it."

The American Psychiatric Association backs up her point.

The APA said in a 2017 report while rates of mental illness in African Americans align with the general population, "disparities exist in regard to mental health care services," and cites poorer quality care and lack of access to "culturally competent care."

Just a third of African Americans who need mental health care receive it, the group said, and when they do they are less likely to receive guideline consistent care, are less frequently included in research and are more likely to use emergency rooms or primary care versus mental health specialty services.

The APA said possible stigmas associated with mental illness could serve as a barrier to seeking care, along with distrust of the health care system, lack of providers from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, lack of culturally competent providers and lack of insurance or underinsurance.

"Sometimes there's this feeling that if it's happening in our homes and our lives, that last thing we want to do is talk about it, as if we're just supposed to keep going," Conyers said. "And problems build and build."

Ryan Feemster, a Dorman High School and Winthrop University graduate, is a Charlotte-based psychotherapist and among the panelists who will present as part of next month's sessions. His view is that the African American community today still labors under the collective trauma of slavery and institutional racism.

"When you look at the people of the African diaspora, look at the variety of biological, psychological and physiological issues we face today, I think it's absolutely still a factor," Feemster said. "And I think that's where we have to start."

An adherent of Jungian analysis and therapy, Feemster said minority mental health concerns must be addressed in a holistic manner -- that the mind and body must work in concert to achieve a healthy level for either.

"It's like a symmetry," Feemster said. "When everything is working and doing its job to its complete capacity, you're in a good place. If it's not, then that's when we start to see different issues."

He said part of his message is oriented on the idea that people should confront their problems.

"We're too quick sometimes to dismiss our feelings and our symptoms, try and repress them and get away from them," Feemster. "Sometimes the best thing we can do is just sit with them. Have a dialogue with your fear."

Cassandra Byrd will speak on the importance of building a support system for caregivers of people seeking mental health treatment.

A supply chain manager by trade, Byrd is also a caregiver for her daughter.

"Building circles of support around yourself and around those you're caring for is essential," Byrd said. "You need to know that you have somebody you can count on, a group of people who can take care of you when you need it."

She said much of the African American community emphasizes faith, prayer and the importance of support that can be found within a church family.

"But sometimes prayer is as far as it goes," Byrd said. "You should pray but you should also seek help or professional support. There is still a very real stigma surrounding mental illness, and we need to work on tearing some of that down."

If you're unsure if you should attend next month's meetings, Byrd urges you to consider attending.

"Come out and be with the rest of us who are also really nervous about talking about these things in a group of people," Byrd said. "That's OK. You don't have to say a word, but you might just find somebody who is going through what you're going through. You may not find anybody, but you certainly won't find somebody sitting at home."

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(c)2019 the Spartanburg Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.)

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