Is Mental Health a Betrayal of our Spiritual Beliefs?

Photo by Pascal Müller on Unsplash

Spirituality and mental health are very much related, but together they make many people uncomfortable and maybe even, confrontational. There is the age-old issue of therapists not wanting to work with clients who are of different faiths. There is the issue of therapists not wanting to work with clients whose lifestyles differ from their religious beliefs. There are clients who do not want to work with therapists who are not of their cultural and religious beliefs. There are, of course, counselors who involve the clients’ faith in their therapy. I belong to the latter group. If a client wants to discuss their religious and spiritual beliefs, I am very much comfortable with that discussion. If the client’s faith is unfamiliar to me, well then, it’s my job to do research to get to know that belief, and also to listen to the client’s experiences of that belief.

Interestingly though, I have met individuals who feel that seeking a therapist is a betrayal of their religious beliefs. Personally, I had never considered that belief. Now, I have found that this is a common belief within the black community. Christianity is a common religious belief within the Black community and many of us have been raised in the church, so this belief of betrayal makes sense when I began to break this down. We are told that we should take everything to God in prayer and that we should seek His help. But somewhere in those thoughts and lessons, the idea that having faith alone was our only job became prevalent. Even the Bible notes that faith without works is dead. Putting thoughts and beliefs out into the world is only one part of the journey. ...

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Black Mental Health…Social & Cultural Traumas

Image courtesy of Oprah.com

I think unlike any other race, blacks have had to endure excessive amounts of trauma that has lasted centuries and are hardwired into our psyche. These built-in emotional, cultural, spiritual, racial, and mental traumas have shaped our histories, our beliefs, values, and our strengths and weaknesses. When we say that black mental health is a necessity, we mean that we must be mindful of the hurt and trauma that lingers in our minds, bodies, emotions, and psyche. The late Maya Angelou said it best, “I come as one but stand as ten thousand,” because our souls are filled with the pain of the past hurts and continued triggers we still deal with.

Social issues

Social issues faced by the Black communities include mass incarceration, gang violence, poverty and generational poverty, unemployment and opportunities, drugs, single parenting, children born out of wedlock, language barriers, lack of resources, education, and sexual education. Additionally, our community struggles with long-held systemic issues that have plagued all our cultures for centuries, not just the American culture. Social issues are difficult to overcome as they present as everyday issues that we deal with; hence, sometimes we may no longer recognize them as issues because they are so ingrained in our minds and lives. For us to overcome social issues, we must want more for ourselves and we must take control of ourselves instead of waiting for someone to give us something because the world does not work that way. For example, I have worked with clients who have not even considered a future for themselves. If we cannot conceive or even dream of a future, we are already lost. We cannot envision a goal, and we cannot dream of actionable steps toward those goals. If we have nothing to look forward to or work toward, then we are just biding our time, wasting time even. ...

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Black Mental Health…Does It Matter?

Photo by Olayinka Babalola on Unsplash

So, I figured I would just jump right into the heart of the matter. I created this website to spread awareness about mental health, particularly black mental health. As a therapist, I am wholeheartedly in support of taking care of ourselves…mind, body, and spirit. I believe that self-care should be holistic and serve us in the ways that we need to be served. With that being said, I know that we understand the value of seeking medical expertise for our bodies and seeking God, or the universe, or whomever you seek for spiritual fulfillment, but we oftentimes neglect our mental health because we are not taught to take care of ourselves.

On a contemporary note, as a woman, and a woman of color, selfishness is not a habit that I was taught. I was taught to take care of everyone and their needs. The lesson was not directly taught that I shouldn’t take care of myself. Rather, it was that I take care of everyone’s needs so that by the time I was done with that, there was never any energy left to do anything for myself. I carried that behavior into adulthood and motherhood until my training as a therapist. The issue then became, undoing a lifetime of lessons, with this newfound knowledge.  So, naturally, I struggled with making these changes in my own life.

On a historical note, the Black community is rife with trauma because of our history and ongoing societal environments. We have only to turn on a TV and see images of ourselves portrayed negatively or being reminded that we should feel less than. I think we understand estimate the toll the constant barrage of negative images has on us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Embracing selfishness allows us to enforce self-care techniques to replenish ourselves. Healthy mental health practices do not have to only apply if we are in crisis or dealing with trauma or a mental health disorder. The goal is to become proactive in our mental health practices so that we are actively taking care of ourselves. ...

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What is The Gray Matthews Project?

The Gray Matthews Project (GMP) will be my life’s work. It is me pursuing my passion of promoting and advocating for people of color – specifically, Caribbean Americans and African Americans – to let go of stereotypes and stigmas to pursue and maintain mental wellness. My intention is to use this platform to spread awareness about mental health and overall wellness within my community. I want my work to encourage people of color, especially Black women, to have the courage to break from stereotypes and stigmas to pursue their dreams so that they can live freeing and fulfilled lives.

I intend to build GMP into the foremost online resource on mental health and wellness for Caribbean and African Americans. Research has already proven that racial and cultural diversity is an issue within the mental health field and as a Jamaican-American, I myself, have also recognized that within this diversity issue, is another issue that is largely ignored, and that is the diversity within the Black community. According to the Pew Research Center’s data collected in 2015, 3.8 million Black immigrants live in the US, and the immigrant population makes up for 8.7% of the American Black population. Pew estimates this number to increase to 16.5% by 2060.  With the changing demographics, and the consistent rise in mental health issues in our societies, changes within the mental health field is mandatory as our purpose is to serve the citizens within our communities.

As a therapist who is a woman of color, I have firsthand knowledge of both sides of the racial and cultural experiences in mental health. I know that we need more representation within the field. I also know what it takes for people of color to come to therapy. I am privy to clients’ wide-ranging concerns including, what to expect in therapy, their fears of being unable to connect with the therapists, fears of being judged, especially the fear of being viewed as weak, in addition to the difficulties of relating spiritual beliefs to the need to seek professional mental health. As a Black woman, I know the value placed on strength in my culture. This is why I decided to become an advocate for my community as I have intimate knowledge of the struggles African Americans and Caribbean Americans face within the field of mental health. ...

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Why Blog About Mental Health?

I am starting off my website with Les Brown’s quote, “You have to be willing to do the things today that others won’t do, to have the things tomorrow that others won’t have,” because this quote has stayed with me for the last year. I came across this quote from one of the many motivation videos on YouTube. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not crazy about the motivation hype but I do believe that there is some use for it and if you are really ready for a change, one thought or one action can change your life. This quote was a part of a speech he gave – and honestly I don’t even remember what the speech was about – but it really gave me pause. I think if you are at the point in your life where you are asking the big questions about life, the right person, or quote, or speech, or behavior can light a spark that can’t be ignored. For me, I had been asking myself, “Is this it?” Is this all I am going to do with my life? I felt like there had to be more to life.  I had had this feeling for quite some time and it was causing me to be unhappy. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong until my girl, Kryssie, suggested that I explore YouTube – Okay, so I am an older millennial so I come from a time when we had no cellphones or social media, and the internet was a new thing. So, I still have my time when I just don’t want to be on social media and I don’t follow all the new apps that come out – so, anyways, I decided to see what was trending on YouTube and I came across TedTalks and other motivational videos. I searched talks until I came across a talk on feeling stuck and couldn’t believe that there was a whole world out there that understood how I felt. The issue that I had been having was that I didn’t even know how I felt so I didn’t have the words to express what I was feeling. These talks opened up my world in a way that I am still so grateful for. ...

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