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Birmingham Therapists Share Importance of Mental Health Wellness for Black Women

From left: Adezza DuBose, founder, Black Mental Health: Let’s Pray and Talk; Dr. Nadia Richardson-Johnson, founder and CEO of the Black Women’s Mental Health Institute and Tiffany Storey, founder and executive director of Storeyhouse Counseling and Consulting. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson | For The Birmingham Times

Dr. Nadia Richardson-Johnson is a professor, diversity consultant as well as Founder and CEO of the Black Women’s Mental Health Institute (BWMHI). She serves with a personal understanding of what mental health patients battle.

Johnson’s been vocal and vulnerable about being diagnosed with “high functioning, rapid cycling, bipolar two,” which is characterized as experiencing four or more episodes of mania or depression in a year’s timeframe.

Her diagnosis came after a collaborative conversation between her medical team – including her counselor, psychiatrist, and internal medicine physician. “I gave all three of them permission to talk to each other, and when they did, they all kind of came together (with a diagnosis),” said Johnson.

That “official” diagnosis opened the door for additional conversations with family who’d managed similar mental health struggles for years, she said.

Dr. Nadia Richardson-Johnson, Founder and CEO of the Black Women’s Mental Health Institute. (Amarr Croskey Photo, For The Birmingham Times)

Johnson and other Birmingham-area medical professionals encourage members of the Black community to be more open about their mental health. There’s still a negative stigma associated with mental illness in the Black community and that stigma is hindering our acknowledgement and healing.

Adezza DuBose, licensed professional counselor and founder of Iman Healing Journey (Iman means faith), said her tea, is “educating and we’re also advocating. We’re doing the best that we can for clients in general, especially Black people, because we are still just down at the bottom when it comes to mental health (care). We still don’t take it as serious as we need to (because) there’s still so much stigma and shame associated with it.”

What’s more concerning is that Alabama rates 50th in the nation in terms of mental health care access, according to a study by Mental Health America, said Richardson.

And that same study shows Alabama has consistently dropped in rankings compared to other states in recent years when it comes to access to mental health resources and care, she added.

Armed with this information, it’s even more important to recognize the signs of mental illness, particularly in high-achieving African American females, she said.

Subtle Signs

One of the first subtle signs, according to Johnson, is when people veer off their normal routine. “When it ventures into this space of mental distress or mental illness, it means it’s impacting their ability to go about their lives as they usually do,” said Johnson.

Watch for the person who is no longer tapping into the things they’d usually enjoy, like going to church, the gym or even family outings, she said.

To kickoff Women’s History Month, Johnson’s organization hosted a luncheon at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, featuring a panel discussion with April Simpkins, the mother of Cheslie Kryst, a lawyer, television correspondent and 2019 Miss USA who was lost to suicide in 2022.

Simpkins shared with the audience that her daughter had long struggled with depression and encouraged them to watch for signs of mental illness, like an excessive work ethic.

Tiffany Storey, licensed counselor, founder and executive director of Storeyhouse Counseling and Consulting. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

Clues To Help Others

Tiffany Storey, Birmingham licensed professional counselor, founder and Executive Director of Storeyhouse Counseling and Consulting, joined Johnson and Simpkins on that panel discussion.

Storey, who reminded the audience to check on their “strong friends,” shared some clues to help others understand how and when high achievers are struggling.

“You’ll hear them negotiating when they can get sleep, or when they can have down time, or when they can squeeze things in,” said Storey. “They say things like, ‘I’m overwhelmed.’ They’re forgetting things. They’re running behind and looking tired. They’re more hidden or socially isolated. That’s the time to pay attention to them,” she said.

Storey added, “People who identify as strongest are often the most emotionally vulnerable. While meeting everyone else’s needs, they get the message their needs aren’t important.”

Storey continued, “often people in distress know they are, but they struggle to acknowledge or make the next step.”

But she added, once you recognize a friend or family member is dealing with a mental health crisis, there are a few ways you can assist to help them move forward and get the help they need.

“First, don’t use terms to make them feel bad or small,” she said. “And make sure they feel seen and heard.’

And rather than just offering to help, take it a step further and insist on making life easier by cooking, cleaning, and running errands for them.

For Johnson’s organization, the work of empowering others to help those who have challenges with mental illness is a crucial part of the healing journey.

“We do mental health first aid training,” she said. “We offer free counseling. We put on community health workshops and clinician training, and some of that includes educating and empowering individuals to self-advocate.”

Adezza DuBose, licensed counselor and founder, Black Mental Health: Let’s Pray and Talk. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

Challenges For Black Women

DuBose, founder of Iman Healing Journey, said there a number of challenges for Black women not found in other communities.

DuBose said she was startled to learn “Black women are now leading in those who have died by suicide after having birth.”

Learning this gave her a renewed passion to help women, as she takes her work and her mission to heart, not only in counseling patients dealing with post-partum depression, but she counsels adolescents and couples.

The most effective personal healing begins with self, she said.

“We cannot continuously pour from an empty cup,” she said. “We have to be able to pour into ourselves and help ourselves as much as we can, so that we can pour back into others, whether it’s our families or it’s the community or wherever.”

The first question she asks in terms of those seeking help, is what their support system looks like, she said.

“Just have some type of foundation to lean on when you’re down, but that’s still not enough,” said DuBose.

“We need community. We need to seek some type of help from somebody that doesn’t know me, so I know there are no biases (knowing) I have a different place outside of my home or outside of wherever that I’m experiencing this trauma. I have somewhere else I can go to release all this mess that’s on me,” said DuBose.

Additional Resources

For more on Richardson and Black Women’s Mental Health Institute visit https://www.bwmhi.org.

For more on Storey and Storeyhouse Counseling and Consulting visit https://www.shccal.com.

For more on DuBose, visit https://www.imanhealingjourney.com.