‘Our Families’: New Mental Health Support Group for African Americans

Our Families
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Depression is a very individual experience, influenced by everything from body chemistry, living situation, education level and even race.

The latter factor prompted Kimesha Morris, director of social work at the Institute of Living, to create a free, twice-monthly support group aimed specifically at the local African American community.

“Our Stories: Raising the Volume on Mental Health in the Black Community” creates what Morris called “a safe space for discussion and support for black families and individuals with a connection to mental illness and mental health challenges.”

“A lot of research shows that black individuals do not access treatment at the same rate as others,” Morris said. “There’s a more pervasive stigma to mental illness for them. They don’t want to be seen as weak and don’t think they should talk to someone about their problems. They look at it as airing dirty laundry outside the home, which is something people in the black community do not do.”

She pointed to a 2008 study that showed, among African Americans who were already seeking mental health care, more than a third felt people in their social circles, even family, would consider mild depression or anxiety a sign that they were crazy. Because of such notions, many African Americans also do not understand that help is available and can successfully manage mental health problems.

“Our Stories” is an attempt to break existing stigmas and acquaint black people with the mental health resources they may need but either don’t know exist or can’t bring themselves to use. Meetings, Morris said, will incorporate subtle psycho-education to help squash the stigma and make key connections for people.

“We need to educate them – you may have anxiety or depression but that doesn’t mean you’re crazy!” she said. “This creates a safe space for them to share with each other, which then normalizes things for them.”

In the black community, there’s also an element of what she called “racial trauma” that impacts the way people view the medical profession and the likelihood that they will reach out for help. Low numbers of black clinicians in mental health does not help, she added.

“This is a great opportunity for people to connect with their peers because their experience is different from others’,” Morris said. “Once we rebuild that trust, maybe they will be open to therapy and we can make referrals.

“We need to decrease their fears about therapy, let them know that it’s okay to talk to someone. We’re here to support black families and individuals, foster a sense of community and encourage healing.”

“Our Stories” meets on the first and third Mondays of the month from 4 to 5:15 p.m. in the first-floor group room of the Massachusetts Cottage at the Institute of Living. It is open to members of the community. For more information or to RSVP for the session, call Kimesha Morris at 860.972.7127.

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