Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church of Victoria, Texas, Works to Break Silence on Mental Illness Among Black Youth

Andre Davis and his mother, Annette, drove from Goliad to Victoria on Thursday night looking for help.

A 16-year-old student at Goliad High School, Andre, like many of his peers, deals with anxiety and depression.

“He’s going through a lot, and it has been like that for years,” his mother said. “We’ve seen counselors and psychiatrists, but it is like nobody’s breaking through… I really need help and more resources.”

The Davis family were among more than 25 people who filled the pews at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church on Thursday night for the second of four seminars on youth mental health. Rev. Jeff Williams, the church’s youth minister, and Rev. Vernon I. Garza, the church’s pastor, partnered with the Victoria County Public Health Department’s grant-funded Be Well Victoria project for the seminars after deciding they needed to address mental illness.

“We had some youth who have seen and been a part of some attempted suicides that happened right here in Victoria, and it troubled them,” Williams said. “So our pastor saw the need for us to do something, and thus we started this initiative of ‘Let’s start talking about mental health, anxiety and depression.’ Some of the things we talked about at that time (of the first seminar) was the fact that in the African American community there still is a stigma associated with mental health, so we wanted to bring these issues up to the forefront.”

Adult African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious psychological distress than their non-Hispanic white peers, according to the Health and Human Services Department Office of Minority Health. While African Americans are overall less likely to die from suicide than their peers, African American teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide.

Studies have shown that those struggling with mental illness in black communities are less likely to receive formal treatment because cultural barriers, including the stigma surrounding mental illness and fear of treatment, prevent people from acknowledging psychological problems and seeking professional help.

The seminar was given by Cameo Mead, a counselor with Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, who was asked to speak by Jizyah Shorts, a community health worker with Be Well Victoria.

Mead is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy – a psychotherapy treatment originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.

Through Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., Mead counsels clients who either do not have mental health service benefits covered through their existing health insurance or cannot afford counseling services and would not otherwise receive treatment. Prior to becoming a community counselor, Mead served in the U.S. Navy and as a police officer in Florida and Texas.

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Source: Victoria Advocate