Are you suffering from mental health issues such as depression, low-self esteem, or other mental disorders? Mental health is a serious issue that many people suffer through alone. Unfortunately, some mental health issues are so severe that it results in tragedy. Those who have mental illness may harm themselves or others who happen to be in the line of fire. In celebration of Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 2 – 8, I wanted to take the time to gather answers from a brilliant mental health practitioner on the topic of mental health. Keep reading as Jamelle Berry, LMFT, shares answers on some of the most pressing mental health topics and how you can get help.
Mel: Why do you think so many people are suffering in silence?
Jamelle Berry, LMFT: The idea that people suffer in silence is a misnomer. When people are suffering, they may not share it verbally. Still, their pain is pretty loud and usually to the people around them. Most people are more transparent than they realize. For example, let’s say that I’m a young person and the first person in my family to “make it.” But, unfortunately, I’m struggling.
Or perhaps I just went through a bad breakup. Or maybe I made a huge financial mistake, and I don’t want anyone to know I’m in debt. Another scenario could be that I’m just sad, and I don’t know why. I won’t necessarily say that I’m in pain. I’ll just go on a shopping spree, misuse substances, or act out angrily. It’s my experience that when emotional pain isn’t transformed, it will be transmitted. Sometimes, we don’t make the connection between daily road rage, for example, and our need to express anger and pain. But there is definitely a connection.
Mel: Mental health seems to be a huge issue. And sometimes, it’s prevalent among those who are beautiful, highly educated, and financially sound. What are your thoughts on why this segment of the population that seems to “have it all together” seems to suffer from mental health issues?
Jamelle Berry, LMFT: I understand why people ask that question. There is some truth to the idea that people who have assets – financial, social, and educational – can sometimes avoid acute mental health symptoms related to those stressors. However, we will all experience mental health challenges in our lives.
Our mental and physical health are not so different in that respect.
For instance, I can eat all the right food, exercise, sleep and do all the things that will help me to remain in good health. Yet – at some point in my life, I will get sick, I will sustain an injury, and I may experience chronic illness from birth or lose function as I age.
The “outwardly right actions” I’m taking will promote good health. But it will not prevent me from needing support across my lifespan. So I’m looking forward to the day when mental health support is held in the same regard.
Mel: In addition to those who “have it all together,” there seems to be a surge of mental health issues and even suicides in the African American community more than it has been in the past. What are your thoughts on this?
Jamelle Berry, LMFT: The topic of mental health in the AA community is a complex one. We have to contend with the additional burden of structural and interpersonal racism. This makes access to the things we need to be healthy extremely difficult. That’s not just physical and mental health care, but clean air, housing access, and access to healthy food. Any of those things (and for many of us, all of those things) can be a struggle to maintain.
We’ve had high rates of suicidality and mental health issues in our community for many years. Often, it’s often because we are struggling with too much and making do with too little. For instance, too few resources, too little support, and too much trauma. It’s hard to heal no matter what your station in life. But it’s infinitely more challenging if I’m also struggling to support my basic human needs.
When I was a child, the old folks used to say, “When white America catches a cold, black America catches pneumonia.” We have seen an increase in rates of depression and suicide coinciding with the worldwide pandemic. The African American community has been dramatically impacted by the loss. Much of it can be blamed on failing health systems and the disconnection we experienced during those 2 ½ years. I think this may have something to do with the dramatic increase we are seeing.
Fortunately, mental health care for black folks has become much less stigmatized. Unfortunately, many of us grew up with various cultural biases against therapy as a viable option in our community. For some, going to therapy is a weakness.
I believe that many African Americans would benefit from competent, culturally informed care. But they have historically gone to the church for such assistance. For problems like anxiety and depression or other mental health issues, it might be better to seek the help of a professional.
Knowing that a competent therapist will work within YOUR framework to support you is crucial. We can support good mental health. But we encourage this along with other healthy and supportive networks, like our church families, a family of origin, and good friends.
Mel: Mental health is not always an option covered by insurance companies, but it is a growing concern that needs addressing by mental health practitioners. How can those without coverage get past these hurdles and see a mental health expert?
Jamelle Berry, LMFT: Access to mental health care in this country can be difficult depending on your location, employment status, available benefits, and so on. Finding a competent therapist among all those factors can be a real challenge. This is why you will often find many African American therapists work outside of the insurance framework.
I know this is true for me. I understand the kind of support needed, and insurance companies don’t often understand that our treatment doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold they would like it to. After a few years of working with insurers, I decided that my clients would be able to have better care by working with me directly. I’ve never regretted that decision.
Private therapy can be expensive. Many therapists, including me, offer a sliding scale fee. Mine is a set rate for reduced therapy. It is funded by donation and cancellation fees (all clients agree to this communal support at the start of therapy). Because the need is so great, you will often find that therapists in private practice are willing to work with you. Or they can refer you to a competent therapist within your budget if the cost is not feasible.
There are also some funds and non-profit organizations doing great work in supporting therapy for black people. These include the Loveland Foundation, the Taraji P Henson Foundation, and Therapy for Black Men, to name a few.
Mel: For those that want to get in contact with you for your mental health services, what must they do?
Jamelle Berry, LMFT: I believe in making mental health care easily accessible. Interested individuals and partners can learn more online at www.couragetoblossom.com or can schedule/donate directly at https://couragetoblossomcounseling.clientsecure.me/
If you or someone you know is facing a serious crisis, contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
Phone: 800-662-HELP (4357)
About Jamelle Berry, LMFT:
I am a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Nevada Las Vegas; I earned my bachelor’s degree in Sociology Modified with an emphasis in African American Studies and a Master of Science degree in Marriage/Couple and Family Therapy. My aspiration of becoming a therapist began when I found myself looking for help to deal with some major life challenges many years ago.
Although I had never been to therapy before (and was more than a little frightened at the thought), I found counseling to be such a transformative experience that I decided to dedicate my life to helping others in this way.
Prior to my graduate studies, I began volunteering as a Nevada State Advocate through the Gender Justice Queer Anti-Violence Project, helping to staff a 24-hour hotline to assist victims of violence, with special training to work with LGBTQIA2 individuals, as well as other marginalized communities such as those in the BDSM, Poly, Kink or Sex Work communities. Through these experiences, my admiration for the resilience and beauty of the human spirit only deepened.
I continued my journey during my graduate studies by working as a Psychosocial Rehabilitation worker. Over the course of four years, I worked with individuals, couples, and families under the supervision of a licensed therapist to provide ongoing mental health support and resources in our local area.
Additionally, I have been honored to be selected by our professional organization, The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, to receive one of 48 fellowships awarded to individuals in my cohort who have demonstrated clinical excellence in Marriage and Family Therapy working in underserved and marginalized communities.
I am currently in private practice, and services are offered through our fully HIPAA-compliant, encrypted telehealth platform, allowing for convenience and flexibility well suited for busy professionals. Also, I contribute to the community by facilitating low-cost group spaces, hosting anti-racism training for licensed mental health professionals, conducting couples workshops, and completing speaking engagements throughout the Las Vegas Valley.
My work is supportive and strength-based, focused on collaborating with individuals, couples, and families to overcome struggles and connect to their inner resources to create change, health, and happiness. My specialties include sexual assault, marriage/relationship counseling, and empowering adult survivors of early childhood trauma, including childhood sexual abuse. I appeal to clients who appreciate feedback, honesty, and a direct approach with humor and goodwill.
Image of Jamelle Berry, LMFT courtesy of Jamelle Berry, LMFT.
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