Doctors in the District are working hard to address the stigma associated with mental health, and doing their part to open doors with education. The American Psychiatric Association hosted its first mental health community fair at Howard University on Saturday.
Kent Wilson-el can recall trauma from his childhood.
“I lost my parents. I lost my mother. I lost my sister,” he said.
He carried the weight of that loss for years, resulting in “anger, frustration, anxiety.”
Today, Wilson-el’s condition would be called post-traumatic stress disorder, but back then, the prevailing attitude was “heal thyself.”
Now, he works to help heal others in similar circumstances, through outreach work and peer counseling with Howard University’s Department of Community and Family Medicine.
His booth was one of the many resources available Saturday at the mental health community fair on the plaza at Howard University Hospital.
It can affect anyone at any time. It doesn’t discriminate by age, race, gender or income. Yet many of us find that mental health and mental illness are tough topics to talk about. That’s why NBC4 is shining a light on the subject by providing education, information and hope.
Dr. Regina James is with the American Psychiatric Association, and they’ve partnered with Howard University Hospital “to bring more awareness to mental health, destigmatizing mental health particularly for communities of color,” she said.
Part of the outreach is teaching how to recognize the signs, which can be subtle.
“Maybe changing in sleep, sleeping more, sleeping less, eating more, eating less, [being] a little more irritable,” James said.
Physical health and mental health are inextricably linked, but they’re heavy subjects for a Saturday fair. The goal was to lighten the approach to dealing with those issues, be it with music, food, exercise, and water on a hot day, to get people comfortable with mental health.
It’s better to get people to this plaza for a good time, than to have them make a critical visit to the emergency room.
“We have our expert team from Howard who are here to address substance abuse issues. There’s a big stigma about that, about the substances that people use and the connection to mental illness,” Dr. Danielle Hairston, director of the psychology program at Howard University Medical School.
The fair was just a couple of hours, but the mission is year-round and holistic.
“If you don’t have transportation, if you don’t have a place to stay, if you don’t have food, your focus is not on getting recovery or getting to medical appointments,” Dr. Finie Richardson, of the Howard University Urban Health Initiative, said.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. Reach different communities, different age groups, let them know it’s OK not be OK,” James said.
And it’s OK to get help. Peer counselor Wilson-el is living proof of that.
“This is my giveback,” he said.