FABC Sponsors Community Mental Health Forum

Various coping methods and resources shared

By Lisa Stafford

For the fifth year, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church (FABC) held its annual Holistic Health Ministry Conference on October 24, 2020, concentrating this year on Mental Health. Mental illness may be more common than many people realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Illness is a medical condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.”  

Even before the impacts of Covid-19, millions of people were affected by mental illness each year, and 1 in 5 US adults experienced mental illness. Further complicating matters, there is often a stigma associated with mental illness, causing those impacted by it to attempt to hide it or refuse to acknowledge it. And far too often, individuals try to self-medicate by abusing drugs or alcohol, or isolating themselves when they need help the most. Several speakers addressed mental illness during the forum, and their roles in helping those who are afflicted by it. 

Dr. Takeisha Davis, CEO at New Orleans East Hospital (NOEH), reminded the group of over 70 attendees that African Americans are disproportionately affected by health issues like diabetes, which make fighting diseases like Covid-19 even more precarious. Stress, anxiety and lack of sleep are normal under current conditions, but actions like yoga, walking, and mindfulness can be used to combat these conditions.

Kylan Dawson, a mental health counselor in the local school system, acknowledged that students are facing challenges associated with the pandemic, including limited social interactions, more difficulty focusing, and lack of privacy at home, but resources for dealing with these situations are available.

Dr. Donisha Dunn, a Psychiatrist and Internist associated with Tulane University and NAMI New Orleans, said that isolation contributes to stress and that Seniors and those with mental illness are most vulnerable; but there are ways to address difficult situations. Many Seniors are unable to see healthcare providers, but telemedicine helps. While decreased physical activity negatively impacts wellbeing, depression doesn’t always require medication. People must be intentional to maintain a sense of wellness.

Arianne Craig Jolla, an educator for 20 years, spoke about challenges that children face and noted that there are many patients at Children’s Hospital due to mental health issues. New issues may arise from multiple children attending classes online at the same time and dealing with the distractions that can result. This also causes difficulties for parents, especially mothers. Ms. Jolla’s book, “Under Pressure: A Woman’s Guide to Resisting the Urge to Quit”, offers insight on addressing women’s unique hardships. 

Kawana Ripoll, a social worker, reiterated the challenges that women face and offered stress management groups and anxiety based groups as an answer for coping with unique situations.

Charles Phillips, an Associate Pastor at FABC, filling in for Pastor Fred Luter, discussed the many problems that families currently face, like Covid-19’s effect on finances and navigating close living quarters; and the results, like divorce, stress, alcoholism, drug abuse, and verbal and physical abuse. Often these challenges are faced by families within the church. These families may be embarrassed to acknowledge these issues and may pretend that everything is ok, but Pastor Phillips emphasized that spiritual counseling is available through the church. “Professional help is good,” he said, “But people need a relationship with God as well.”

One of the most compelling moments during the forum came when Mavia Marsalis gave a gripping account of her personal experience fighting Covid-19 and grappling with the loss of multiple family members to the disease. “It is real,” she emphasized. “Take it seriously.”

The final speaker of the day was Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen, who thanked FABC for organizing the forum and shared information about the activities that the New Orleans City Council has taken to improve mental health in the city. 

Individuals requiring assistance with mental health issues can find resources on the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, https://namineworleans.org/. For more Mental Health resources from NOEH, New Orleans Health Department, DePaul Community Health Centers, Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and NAMI, click here.

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