SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — To mark Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, the Savannah-founded Love Again Initiative is virtually hosting the Clap for Me Monologues.
The program, which will be shown online July 16 at 6:30 p.m., aims to start conversations about the value of mental wellness within minority communities.
“The Clap For Me Monologues is a creative and artistic way of creating a dialogue within the African-American community about why it’s important to make sure that our mental health is in check, especially during this time with the pandemic and all of the other things that are going on,” program organizer and the Love Again Initiative founder, Kimberly Gunn, told WSAV.com NOW.
The mental health advocate started the Love Again Initiative last year to spread awareness for minority mental health.
Thursday’s program will feature stories of six survivors who have had experience, whether personally or through loved ones, with mental illnesses.
Viewers will be able to watch via Facebook Live, YouTube Live and KimberlyGunn.com.
“I want to let people know that it’s okay not to be okay, and that there are resources out there for them in the event that they need mental wellness or a mental checkup,” Gunn said.
Gunn, who’s also a certified educator and singer-songwriter, shares that her own family has been affected by mental health issues.
“My brother struggled with schizophrenia as well as being bipolar, and because we were not proactive, we didn’t converse and we didn’t take advantage of the resources that are out there, unfortunately, he is now incarcerated,” Gunn revealed of her 36-year-old sibling’s battle.
“I feel like if we were to have taken a more proactive approach, then it would have helped us as a family be able to cope with someone who is struggling mentally, as well as confront the traumas that have affected our family in the past,” she said.
Mental health stigma among minorities
Gunn says some of the factors that contribute to lack of mental health awareness within the Black community include not knowing what resources are out there or fearing the stigma attached to addressing mental health concerns.
“We are afraid to talk,” Gunn said, adding, “Sometimes just a conversation of, ‘hey, how are you doing? How are you feeling? Are you okay?’ and people being able to say, ‘no, I’m not,’ that creates the dialogue, acceptance and admittance of, ‘hey, I’m not okay,’ and, ‘well, you might need to seek out some professional help and counseling.’”
There are also worries of being labeled as “crazy” or “psycho” for discussing mental health struggles, she says.
Gunn also notes a lack of resources available to minority communities.
“Let’s face it, a lot of our people in the African-American community are having a hard time with finding doctors, so it comes to the point of a priority,” she said. “‘Should I go and get my eyes checked? Should I go get my heart checked? Or should I deal with the trauma that has basically shaped my life?’”
From a male perspective, M.A.L.E. Dreamers youth mentor Tyrell Morris says Black men don’t always want to share with others when issues are weighing heavily on their minds.
“We don’t want to feel like we need some type of help, and that we’re so strong, we can do it all on our own,” said Morris, who presents his painful story of watching both of his grandmothers deal with Alzheimer’s during the monologues.
“Nobody can do it by themselves; you need somebody, you need some type of guidance, some type of counsel,” Morris shared.
A diagnosis, not a death sentence
Thursday’s virtual presenters include Idell Biles, Audrey Aaron, Willie Harris, licenced therapist LaSonna Rivers as well as author Yalonda Best.
Best tells WSAV.com NOW that a painful childhood experience ignited her own battle with depression.
“My childhood trauma pretty much derived from the loss of my mother, who died by suicide when I was 13 years old, and that was the beginning of the mental health aspect of my life,” Best said.
She allowed the grief and and emotions surrounding her loss to build without properly dealing with them, she shared.
“I always equate it to having a jar with things stuffed in it, and eventually, if you don’t deal with that stuff, that jar will explode,” Best said.
“Well, it got to the point where it exploded for me, but it was a good thing because that was when realization happened, and it allowed me to deal with my childhood traumas,” the mental health advocate said.
Her portion of the Clap for Me Monologues shows her acting out some of the events she’s dealt with in life.
She hopes the overall presentation helps shed light on the fact that mental illness is a diagnosis, not a death sentence.
“You can live a productive life, you can have quality of life,” Best said.
She says the Clap for Monologues event will seek to break through the taboo of mental health in Black communities.
“Our first solution has always been to pray to God, go to church or pray about it, suck it up, and lot of people don’t like to deal with it because they don’t like to be judged,” Best said.
“It’s about bringing awareness and letting people know it’s okay, you know, you’re not going to be judged at all,” she said.
Best adds that she’s passionate about helping others and is always open to lending an ear to those who are ready to open up about their struggles.
Morris says the Black community should work to understand that asking for help is not a problem.
“It may be difficult because of our pride and our ego, but once you get help, it makes the process and the journey a whole lot easier,” Morris said. “And that’s not just mental things; that’s everything in life.”
The Clap for Me Monologues will be streamed live via YouTube, Facebook and KimberlyGunn.com at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 16.