Facing up to untreated trauma

Some say it and other mental ills have been ignored too long

On February 27, Hope and Healing Counseling Services (HHCS) hosted a conversation entitled “Mental Health: Breaking the Stigma.” The event was moderated by Rev. Nekima Levy-Pounds and featured panelists Marques Armstrong, owner of HHCS; Dr. Peggy Elliott, author and counselor; and Rev. Dr. Brian Herron Sr. of Zion Baptist Church.

Rev. Nekima Levy-Pounds and featured panelists Marques Armstrong (Olivia Crutchfield/MSR News)

Most of the discussion focused on the theme of trauma and the effects of trauma to individuals as well as to the community when trauma goes untreated. The panelists wasted no time getting to the point, saying the first step to breaking the mental health stigma is simply acknowledging it.

In the Black community, mental health has traditionally been viewed and referred to negatively and associated with weakness. Such mental disorders such as depression, hearing voices, and untreated retardation remained well-kept secrets and were ignored. To have a mental disorder somehow took away from your Blackness; it was these stigmas that the panel directly and indirectly addressed.

“It’s past time that we begin to talk about this to break the stigma around mental health in our community,” said Armstrong.

To address the stigma, the panelists also added historical context pertaining to the African American community. The panelists agreed that the African American community has been through much-untreated trauma dating all the way back to when Africans were snatched out of their homes and countries.

Rev. Herron, who trains and provides mental health first aid, took a moment to connect the dots surrounding the trauma experienced by the Black community. Some of the traumatic events referenced were being captured, coming to a foreign land in the bowels of the ship stacked on top of each other, living in filth, families torn apart and sold off from each other, and always being on the brink of freedom and having fair shot only to have the rug pulled from under their feet.

Dr. Peggy Elliot, Rev. Brian Herron, Nekima Levy-Pounds (with daughter Assata) and husband Marques Armstrong Photo by Khymyle Mims

Two prominent questions that really stuck out during the discussion were whether there is a “post-traumatic slave syndrome” and whether racism is a mental disorder. One conclusion that seemed mutually accepted by all is that in the field of psychology, African Americans must create and establish their own evaluation scales and tools. Both panelists and audience members made the case that tools used to evaluate sanity were created by the oppressors for use on the oppressed.

One audience member, a member of the Association of Black Psychologists, spoke on the scale of normalcy and how at its base are the essential necessities of life such as food, shelter and safety. He then raised the question of how someone can apply such a scale to a population that, for the most part, doesn’t meet the scale’s baseline.

While addressing the elephant in the room pertaining to mental health in the Black community, Armstrong expressed the importance of seeking the right help. Early in the discussion, he stated that there’s something wrong with all of us, meaning everyone deals with the effects of trauma, directly or indirectly.

“I am pleased about the panel and what it is that they discussed,” Armstrong said following the event. “I appreciate the diversity that we saw in the room, not just diversity in culture but the diversity in age ranges. It ended at eight [o’clock], it is nine o’clock [now], and we still have a conversation happening. It shows me that the conversation was well received and well needed, and we will have more.”

Armstrong said HHCS will soon be launching a new series modeled after TED Talks (hour-long videos from expert speakers). Armstrong’s version will be titled, “Assata Speaks” with topics focusing on racial, social, economic and environmental justice.

Armstrong assured participants that these will have “a lot more flavor” than the traditional TED Talks.


Khymyle Mims welcomes reader responses to khymylewrites@gmail.com.

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