Unapologetically . . . Our Images, Our Narratives, Our Mental Health.



Healing for the Hurting


Mental and emotional health are topics that are increasingly coming to the forefront on social media, during in-person conversations and in traditional media. In the mental health community, stigma is the watchword of the day as nonprofits, celebrities, and advocates encourage more transparency and less shame in our discussions and solutions to mental challenges. But addressing stigma alone won’t provide a complete solution for the chronic anxiety, intensified fear, and deep depression faced by multitudes of African Americans. So what should we be on the lookout for as an emerging approach with solid potential to move the needle in black mental wellness?  Keep your eyes and ears open for organizations and campaigns focused on healing.

For many, healing is a concept best understood in a religious context, something accomplished by divine and supernatural means. But that reality is being appropriated by the faithful and non-adherents alike to offer a path of recovery for those struggling to cope with past traumatic events, toxic levels of stress and everyday micro aggressions. What is healing? What does it mean as applied to healthy mental and emotional functioning? A general definition of healing says that healing is “the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again.” If an arm or leg is broken, healing is readily understood as bringing the limb back to a place where it can be used to grasp, hold, step or walk. An xray shows the bones without breaks or splits and all the joints connected as they should be. But when it comes to the mind, or our feelings and emotional responses, what benchmarks of health do we use to know that a mind has been restored to that level of function? Depression, fear and other more serious mental conditions can now be mapped and viewed with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can show brain activity as measured by blood flow in various regions. Differences can be detected between people with and without different conditions.

The reality is that the average person in the black community is not getting the benefit of an fMRI or similar technology. For most African Americans a recognized need for and pursuit of healing involves an inner sense that things are not right. A feeling that there’s too much pain absorbed but not released; physical symptoms that finally emerge after months or years of mental stress and pressure; family members, co-workers or friends too often asking, “Are you ok?” or “What’s wrong?” Rather than penetrating rays emitted by a machine, the barometer of sound mental health is the person’s own knowing of self, a measurement accumulated after years of self-awareness and intimate relationship feedback. Although it hurts, a black woman may have to admit—even if only within herself—that she has become that angry black woman stereotype. Or a father might watch his son become sullen and withdrawn. Now more than ever, individuals and communities are adopting practices demonstrated by research and lived experience to restore wellness and balance to minds and emotions.

Meditation, prayer, yoga and other forms of exercise, and group discussion and support were high visibility practices that gained following last year. Several groups and organizations have been created to help those who want to embark on journeys of healing for trauma, abuse, racism and discriminatory treatment, or who just want to cope more effectively with life.

  • Black Woman Heal, a campaign of Lilada’s Livingroom, was created by Lilada Gee to “inspire survivors of sexual abuse to reclaim their spirits, minds and bodies” and to “inspire Black survivors across the nation to embark upon a personal healing journey.” A survivor of sexual abuse herself, Ms. Gee is passionate and dedicated to black women’s mental wholeness.  
  • Black Girl’s Guide to Calm is a book and online resource designed to help women learn how to create inner calm and peace despite chaos, anxiety and frustration in life. Its founder Jamie Fleming-Dixon blogs about meditation, yoga, and self-care, offering tips and practical information with blog entries like, “Decide What You Want”, “Visualizing with Meditation”, and “7 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Wellness”.

There are also larger-scale efforts like:

  • Community Healing Network is a structured way to address emotional and mental health challenges on a group level. It focuses on emotional emancipation by attacking the mental and emotional effects of racism and its root messages on the minds of African Americans and others of the black diaspora. The collective sponsors emotional emancipation circles and trains people how to facilitate these support groups to provide spaces for dialogue and healing.

Young blacks need healing, too. There is a wonderful resource offered by ScenariosUSA, ‘What’s the REAL DEAL About Asking for Help and Healing?’ This is a lesson from the Love and Solidarity curriculum and is based on facilitated discussion around a student-written film about the violence and other trauma that effects young black women in poverty. Students work through activities on coping and identifying resources for healing. The lesson is free thru January 31 and can be used with or without the accompanying film.

Archive Retrieval from BlackMentalHealthNet.com

Sarah Y. Vinson