Reflecting on Mental Health Awareness Month

African american woman in suit sitting at cafe table with lap top

May 2022 is Mental Health Awareness Month and a meaningful time for me to reflect on my decision to become a depth-oriented therapist, and what it means to attend to your mental health.  

As a young sociology student in 1999, at the University of Guyana, we studied the implications of poverty and wellness and it became quite clear to me that mental health is not exclusively located among the poor or disadvantaged, but rather it is widespread amongst the population. Poverty and lack of resources are two factors that delay people from seeking out help. In addition, I understood the deadly sting of stigma and discrimination and why it is important to have spaces for people who are suffering to be held and treated with care, respect and diginity.  

I came to the helping profession by way of a good friend who was an excellent social worker. To honor him, I studied clinical social work and worked in various iterations of the profession, which include HIV/AIDS advocacy, prevention, care and treatment, substance use and addiction treatment, homelessness prevention, child welfare along with mental health counseling. I did not feel comfortable with the work I was doing. In fact, I was unsettled and I wanted to make a meaningful impact to help remove the stigma around having mental health issues and helping people to heal from issues of childhood trauma, abandonment, abuse, and neglect. 

I became a therapist to provide a safe space for men and people from African, multicultural and LGBTQI+ identities to explore their concerns and discuss issues and feelings without judgment or fear of retaliation.  I have taken on the responsibility to hold a reflective space that will enable my patients to move towards self-discovery, emotional health, and healing. 

I think men have a unique experience with mental health stigma, which often prevents them from seeking help. The implicated social contract is that men are expected to be strong and not express their feelings or cultivate healthy relations with themselves or other men or women. 

I understand that asking for help isn’t always easy, and therapy can often mean facing and experiencing very painful life experiences and feelings. It’s not easy, but it is possible to move through the pain and create a life filled with feelings of self-acceptance, self-worth and happiness. 

We are all feeling human beings and throughout all months, not just Mental Health Month, I would like to encourage us to seek out healthy relations that fosters acceptance of feelings, and remember to check in on each other. Sometimes it is as simple as asking someone “How are you doing”? that provides the support and encouragement they need to ask for help.