By Tiffany Alexander

Clevelanders gathered at Neighborhood Connections in Midtown on Friday, Oct. 20th, for a community conversation on mental health. The event was sponsored by The Solutions Journalism Network’s first HBCU + Black Press fellows cohort. This initiative deepens SJN’s work with colleges and universities and builds on SJN’s commitment to renewing and refreshing journalism for historically underserved communities.

“Our Mental Health in Focus” featured panelists Eric. L. King Sr. and Qwen Smith, both counselors with Mental and Emotional Wellness Centers of Ohio, one of the few Black-owned mental health practices in Ohio that offers full-body care. The discussion, which included a back-and-forth with the audience, was moderated by Cleveland State professor Tiffany Alexander.

In simple terms, mental health is how a person responds to events in their life, King said. That could include a move, loss of a job, death of a loved one, or trauma. Tools anyone can use to handle stress include breathing exercises, physical exercise, and monitoring diet and food intake. “It might be time to seek professional help if you’re having trouble navigating everyday stress and relationships,” Smith advised.

Someone may seek out a counselor if “they are having a hard time navigating things at home or work, or if they are finding a lot of problems with their relationships with people. Or they’re just noticing it’s getting harder to manage the day-to-day,” Smith said. She also noted that untreated stress can affect physical health, as well. A racing heartbeat, sweating, or shortness of breath can be physical manifestations of too much stress.

Audience members discussed issues including socioeconomic disparities and post-pandemic life as community stressors. Televised violence against the Black community was also addressed. King described that as “vicarious trauma,” which is trauma induced by witnessing violent events, whether as a bystander or in the media. It’s important to take time away from negative images and news, the panelists advised. Smith suggests dedicating 30 minutes each day to yourself–whether that be in silence, going for a walk, or simply making time for a private morning coffee.

The majority African-American crowd noted how important it is, and how difficult it can be, to find Black therapists. All agreed that more community conversations around mental health in the Black Community are beneficial and necessary.

To learn more about the Mental and Emotional Wellness Centers of Ohio, visit MEWCOHIO.com.

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