Mental Health Awareness Month by Anoa Hawkins

May is known as Mental Health Awareness Month. Throughout this month, the aim is to reduce the stigma surrounding obtaining treatment for mental health ailments. With increased awareness, the expectation is that more people will seek the necessary care for their mental health to enhance their overall well-being.  A population that is greatly affected by this stigma is children and adolescents. Studies indicate that in the United States, approximately 20% of young people aged 3-17 experience mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorders  [2].  By 14 years old, half of all mental health conditions are typically led by non-specific psychosocial disturbances, which can evolve into substantial mental health conditions responsible for 45% of the international burden of disease from the age span of 0 to 25 [1]. To invest in the future, we must first invest in the children of today. Here are a few tips and aspects for investing in adolescents’ mental health: 

Associated Factors 

A plethora of determinants exist for adolescents experiencing mental health difficulties. Essential factors identified as risks for mental health involve relationships with family and peers, quality of home life, and living conditions that are engulfed in violence, abuse, harsh parenting, bullying, etc. [5]. Other contributing factors to a decline in mental health challenges and stressors incorporate identity exploration and pressure to conform to society, such as gender norms, peers, and social media. These elements affect adolescents’ perceptions of the future and their realities [5]. The listed associated factors can deter adolescents and their families from seeking treatment due to the lack of quality services and the stigma and discrimination of mental health support.

Early Intervention

Providing adequate and timely mediation and support for early detection of mental health difficulties can substantially decrease the severity, interval, and recurrence of mental illness symptoms and their associated social disadvantage [6]. Early intervention is imperative regarding adolescents’ mental health. If interventions are taken early, adolescents are more likely to effectively utilize the skills and tools in adulthood, manage symptoms, and advocate for their needs, promoting a prosperous, healthy lifestyle. 

Warning Signs 

Studies revealed an adolescent might need assistance improving their mental health if they [7]: 

  • Lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy
  • Have low energy
  • Have difficulty sleeping or eating
  • Spend more time alone and avoid social activities
  • Excessively exercise, diet, and binge eating
  • Harm themselves (e.g., burning or cutting their skin)
  • Use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
  • Engage in risky or destructive behavior
  • Have thoughts of suicide
  • Think their mind is being controlled or is out of control or hear things other people cannot hear

As summer approaches, many children and adolescents will lose their daily structures, routines, and appropriate social interactions and activities that schools often provide. Adolescents may negatively cope for the lack of social isolation and routines, which can cause undesirable effects on their mental health. 

 Three ways to improve Mental health:  

  1. Utilize your resources to take adequate care of your mind and body [2]:
    • Create and adhere to a schedule, eat a balanced diet, stay physically active, get quality sleep, stay hydrated, and spend time outside. 
    • Avoid or limit substances that can stimulate lower moods, making you feel tired or depressed, such as alcohol, marijuana, vaping, and tobacco.  
  2. Take a break from Screens [2]: 
  • In this age of technology, it is so easy for us to spend excessive amounts of time utilizing screens. Mental health consequences, such as anxiety or depression and low self-esteem, can be a result of continuously comparing oneself to others [3,4].
  • For adolescents, this can cause decreased motivation and a decline in academic performance [3,4].
  • To guide your technology use, ask yourself: Is my screen time taking away from me being present now in healthy offline activities, such as exercising, hanging out with friends, reading, or sleeping? What online activity are you mainly consuming, and how does it make you feel? What motivates you to be online- Do you feel like you have to me [3]?

3.Learn & Practice Techniques to manage stress and other challenging emotions [3]

  1. Try to recognize situations that may be emotionally challenging for you and devise strategies to manage those emotions. 
  2. Utilize a stress ball. 
  3. Follow a guided meditation or yoga audio. 
  4. Practice positive affirmations and self-gratitude. 

Though these tips are not treatments that can fully cure one’s mental health, these are daily strategies that can significantly reduce symptoms of mental health ailments. If you feel unsure or you are struggling with your mental health, remember it is encouraged to seek help from a trusted adult/ person or clinician. Taking care of one’s mental health is just as important as one’s physical health in order to live a fulfilling life.

By: Anoa Hawkins, counseling associate 

  1. Colizzi M, Lasalvia A, Ruggeri M. Prevention and early intervention in youth mental health: is it time for a multidisciplinary and trans-diagnostic model for care? Int J Ment Health Syst. 2020 Mar 24;14:23. Doi: 10.1186/s13033-020-00356-9. PMID: 32226481; PMCID: PMC7092613. 
  2. Office of the Surgeon General (OSG). Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory [Internet]. Washington (DC): US Department of Health and Human Services; 2021. WE CAN TAKE ACTION. Available from:
  3. How Does Social Media Affect Teens? | Anxiety Treatment ID (
  4. National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2022 Oct. CHILD AND ADOLESCENT MENTAL HEALTH. Available from:

5. The mental health of adolescents (who. int) 

6. Early intervention | Queensland Mental Health Commission (

7. Mental Health for Adolescents | HHS Office of Population Affairs

Get Ready For The Holiday Season, Write A Letter To A Loved One 

December is Write a Friend Month. This holiday season let your loved ones know how much you care for them.  Long are the days of writing letters. Most of us have replaced hand-writing with quick emails and texts to our loved ones and friends but nothing can replace the authenticity of getting a letter in the mailbox. December is a wonderful time to encourage letter writing with your loved ones and a chance to revive a dying art form. Research shows that being kind and generous leads to a positive mood and less anxiety. Writing letters is also a way to let your personality shine and capture emotion; you may even get a letter back!  

Here are 4 ways to ignite a dying form and embrace holiday cheer:

  1. Send Holidays Cards

Many people still send holiday cards, which is one of the special things about the holidays. If you’ve never sent one now is the time.  Additionally, adding a special note this year to your holiday cards is a simple way to make this season unique.  Make a list of close friends and family to brighten the cold winter month. You can include pictures and life updates to make your cards stand out this season.  

2. Become A Penpal

Find a pen pal program to join this holiday season. They are a great way to get to know a stranger and build connectedness in your community and beyond.  Search online for national and international options.  It can continue a friendship for months to come! 

Here is a list of ones to check out:

  • PenPal World – Connects millions of global users and has a free membership option
  • Postcrossing – The organization connects people through the art of postcard-writing
  • Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals – This program has over 43,000 members and an active Facebook group that develops friendships across the globe.  Although it is an online option, you can incorporate good old-fashioned handwritten letters once connections begin. 

3. Send Thinking of You Cards

Receiving a card elicits an emotional response in the limbic system, which plays a role in emotion and emotional memory.  Studies show, that receiving a card has a greater emotional response than an email.  It can create feelings of excitement, anticipation, and surprise.  It can almost feel like receiving a gift so don’t undercut the importance of sending ‘thinking of you cards to friends or family members. 

4. Write Letters To Those Who Need It.

Military members stationed overseas, those in the hospital, or someone in your community may need some love and recognition and the holidays are a perfect time to let them know they are appreciated. Contact your local hospital, or community center, or check social media for feature stories of heroes.  Y0u never know who may need to be cheered up. 

This season, take time to write friends and family members. Spread the holiday cheer. Letters are tangible and tactile, and bring an emotional connection between the sender and recipient. Letters can be cherished and the benefits to mental wellbeing are numerous. Knowing that someone has taken the time to write them a letter lets them know that others want to keep in touch and feel more valued.  Send a letter today to make their day!


by: Nichole Hardy, LGPC

I often work with adolescent clients who are confused about what to do with their emotions when they are highly stressed. They struggle with being overscheduled, sleep-deprived, and overstimulated by the information at their fingertips.  Adolescents today will often use technology as an escape however that leads to hours of being super focused on unrealistic images of perfectionism. This can have a hazardous impact over a long period of time. Today teenagers are already questioning themselves and where they fit in this world. In a world where they are told through media images and social pressures you have to fit into a mold to be accepted. How do adolescents find stability in their forever-changing world? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, everyone wants to belong or be a part of a community. Below are some tips for parents to support their teens through stressful times.


Check-in with your teen daily and ask about their day, even though adolescents sometimes tend to be closed off. Do not be discouraged or give up. Your teen is listening attentively even if they do not appear so. Often adolescents state that their parents are not understanding and do not listen. Try to listen attentively without interruption or judgment. This creates a safe space for your teen to vent or release some of the stress. When time permits, take a ride in the car, go for a walk with your teen. Use these casual times to check in and talk freely about what may be going on in your teen’s life. The check-in allows you as the parent to tap into your teen’s mood on a regular basis. This gives them a consistent time to touch base or open up about something that may be on their minds and causing stress.


This is a challenging age to maneuver through as a parent. As your teen is attempting to assert their independence, you want to set boundaries. Be sure to be consistent with your words and actions. Teens will push the boundaries but consistency is key. Understand that adolescents are in a developmental place where they are questioning everything in the world, including you. During the adolescent years, they are highly emotional, and if you are not careful your teen will take you on the emotional roller coaster with them. When having a discussion with your teen be sure you are in touch with your emotions.  Make sure you are not in a high-stress mood or rushing off to the next task.  As parents, we are very busy and are juggling a lot, so it is important to be in a space where you are emotionally available. If you are a person who cannot answer questions right away because your teen needs an immediate answer, discuss with your teen when would be a good time to express concerns. If you are redirecting a specific behavior, keep a calm voice so that you can stay level-headed and not go into an emotional spiral with your teen. Remember to restate facts and explain consequences based on expectations that work for you, as the parent. 


Setting goals together with your teen helps to model what it is like to take healthy steps to achieve goals. Demonstrating healthy ways to plan and achieve goals while maintaining open communication is key. A great activity to work on with your teen is a vision board. This activity not only gives your adolescent a concrete plan for obtaining personal goals but also assists you to see what areas may be challenging for your adolescent.  This activity demonstrates that achievements are attainable while giving your teen a connection to you. During this stage of young adulthood, sometimes it is difficult to connect. This a great activity to connect with your teen and model your own goals as a parent.


It is sometimes difficult for teens to identify their emotions. Being self-reflective is a skill that most adults learn through a variety of life events.  Adolescents are challenged with identifying their feelings of sadness, anger, joy, and disappointment. Unfortunately, adolescents that I have worked with share that they are told their feelings are trivial compared to adult worries.  However, this is so far from the truth in the teen world. What about the social pressures from school, sports, and friends? How does a teen in today’s society manage to balance what is realistic and what is out of their control? If the adolescents do not successfully balance the two this can cause severe anxiety, depression, and host other emotional strongholds. Encourage your teen to express their emotions in a respectful way and not act on impulse. Through practice and modeling your teen can eventually come to the conclusion that they can manage their emotions.


Teens spend a great deal of time on technology devices for school, social interaction and entertainment.  Creating a technology plan for the family helps to model for your teen healthy ways to use technology. Also, coming up with alternative activities during “tech downtime” is important. Activities such as; exercise, board games, eating out as a family, watching movies, shopping, sports, and reading are few activity suggestions you can follow but the overall goal is to bond with your teen so that when they are distressed they know you are a safe place. There is no perfect solution but talking to your teen is the best way to bond during this developmental journey.

Tips on How To Achieve More  Balance & Improve In The New Year

At my private practice, I often work with clients on finding balance. Many of us are programmed to live from one extreme to another.  Going into the new year, we all could focus more on finding balance.  As your identifying your goals, remember these 7 tips: B.A.L.A.N.C.E

Be Present

Many of us focus on the past or the future.  But we often forget that the present is all we really have.  It’s easy to get caught up on what’s next.  With hectic schedules and busy lives, stress and anxiety become a way of life. This fast-paced mentality to hurry through each moment in order to get to the next starts to become natural.  However, focusing on living in the present is good for our psychological, physical, and emotional health. 

Actualize Your goals

This year do a vision board to be constantly reminded of what you’d like to achieve. Be sure to place your vision board somewhere in your home that you pass often. I like to post mine on my bedroom closet door.  It is a constant reminder of what I’ve achieved and where I am going.  The visual will help you better actualize your goals for the year. 

Love On Yourself

Many of us have obligations to others.  Maybe you have children or caregiving for parents. However, loving on yourself is mandatory to have healthy well-being.  Loving yourself creates an overall positive view of yourself. It also allows you to have empathy and love for others. Self-love creates a foundation that allows us to be assertive, and set healthy boundaries and relationships with others.

Assert Your Strengths

In therapy, we often focus on a clients strengths and how they can support clients in achieving their goals. Focusing on the negatives don’t help us get closer to achieving goals. Focusing on your strengths can lower stress levels and create resilience.  Research from Johns Hopkins shows that people who focus on the positive also have better psychological, physical well-being, cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Never Dwell on the Negative

As stated above, focusing on the positive and what you are good at has many mental and physical benefits. Dwelling on the negative can cause increased stress and anxiety and and over lower quality of life. 

Cultivate Meaningful Relationships

Identifying the people in our lives that become our village or safe space is vital to healthy well-being. Friends and trusted family can encourage healthy behaviors, provide emotional support, and help foster healthy self-esteem. Healthy interactions with others can reduce our stress levels.  Make an inventory of your tribe.  Who are the people in your life that enhance your life and make it more fulfilling? Make sure that you intentionally spend time with them this year. 

Expect Love & Kindness, Always

In the wise words of Gandhi, “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer”. If you talk to yourself unkindly, start to track how many times a day you are hard on yourself and replace those thoughts with kinds thoughts. Overriding the inner negative self-talk and replacing it with a kinder, more compassionate and forgiving inner voice can transform our mental and emotional wellbeing.

6 Things to Know About Managing Collective Grief in the Black Community

“I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else”. – Maya Angelou, When I Think of Death

Since late 2019 the collective grief in America has been palpable. There have been so many tragedies. It all seems to continue at a rapid pace.  That being said, Black Americans continue to experience greater disparities. The emotional toll of history on Black Americans has been well documented. Health disparities statistics also indicate that Black Americans have a shorter lifespan than their White counterparts. Since COVID-19, Black Americans are almost twice as likely to lose someone to COVID.  Additionally, the constant mass shootings make us all pause in fear, shock, and disbelief. Black grief creates unhealthy bodies and minds.  Race-based stressors can increase cortisol levels, leading to headaches, fatigue, heart disease, diabetes, sleep problems, increased hypervigilance, depression, and anxiety. Lastly, Black Americans are losing loved ones more frequently and at younger ages.  This Juneteenth, let’s take time to reflect on Black Grief and tools to help us live healthier in 2022 and beyond.  Here are 6 tools to help you manage Black Grief:

Set firm boundaries

You are under no obligation to explain your feelings to others.  According to Forbes magazine, avoiding setting healthy boundaries in our relationships can lead to low self-esteem, needing approval from others, learned helplessness, or the fear of being rejected or criticized.  Setting boundaries allows us to redefine our identity and make ourselves a priority.  Being firm with boundaries also decreases your levels of stress. When setting boundaries, practice assertive communication, which allows you to be respectful yet direct at the same time. 

Indulge in creativity

Celebrating creativity can provide some respite from traumatizing events and it’s not selfish to take time out for yourself. Feeding your creativity can have a calming effect and it’s a great outlet to exert energy around frustrations and other hard emotions.  Sharing your creativity provides connectedness.  Additionally, Art Therapy has been known to decrease anxiety and depression symptoms and supports self-expression and healing. 

Limit Social Media Time

Not every post, tweet, article, or message requires your attention or response. A constant intake of footage and information can be overwhelming. A 2019 study found that teenagers who use social media for more than 3 hours daily are more likely to experience mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behavior. Additionally, multiple studies have also found that prolonged hours on social media can be linked to similar symptoms in adults. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States and in 2020, 20 million adults had at least one major depressive episode. With depression and anxiety at an all-time high, you don’t need the approval to take a break from social media.  Put your mental health care first. 

Feel Your Emotions

Remember that your feelings are valid, take your time to acknowledge them, no matter how hard it is to sit with them.  Holding in your emotions often leads to more suffering.  Shutting off your feelings can also push someone into isolation, which can lead to other negative symptoms, such as depression.  When we shut down it stops the possibility for others to connect and comfort us.  The only way to live an authentic life is, to be honest with your feelings and be present with your emotions. We are told from a young age to wipe our tears and not show negative emotions, however, this doesn’t serve us in adulthood. Practice with friends or family that you feel safe with first, opening up about how you’ve been feeling. Talk therapy is a great way to get in touch with your emotions and process your feelings. 

Connect with others

It is important to seek support and comfort from others that you can trust.  According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), a social connection can lower depression and anxiety, regulate our emotions, and help improve our self-esteem and empathy for others. Join a book club, get involved with a professional organization, or make an intentional commitment to hanging out with family or friends regularly.  If hanging out with others creates social anxiety volunteer in your community or for a cause you are passionate about. There are many ways to connect with others.  Take an interest in a young person, offering mentorship. Working with the youth and teaching someone a new skill can be very rewarding and provide genuine opportunities to connect.  

Practice Mindful Cooking

Cooking is a great escape from the day and allows space to feel accomplished while enjoying the senses of smell, touch, and taste. It activates and engages our senses. The Wall Street Journal found that cooking and baking are activities that fit behavioral activation therapy, psychologists have noted. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior, and decreasing procrastination.

Wilson, Da’Mere and O’Connor, Mary-Frances. “Understanding Black Grief.” The University of Arizona, 28 April 2022

Webster, Micalah. “Resources for Black Healing.” University of North Carolina Wilmington, 1 June 2020

4 Ways to Help You Through the Stages of Grief 

Spring is a time of renewal and transition, however, it can also be a time of reflection of the past and those we miss dearly.  Additionally, for over 2 years now, we have been living with COVID-19 pandemic, adding to our experiences around loss. COVID-19 has surpassed roughly 993,000 deaths within the United States, leavings millions of Americans in a state of grief.  In this current environment, we are likely to see more people whose grief doesn’t lessen with time.  This has been emphasized by The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently announcing the addition of prolonged grief disorder (PGD) to the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) manual. 

Many of us are familiar with the stages of grief. We are told that it’s a process and it has to run its course. The grief cycle (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) allows us the right to give ourselves grace for how we feel and the mental challenges we face during the grieving process. However, grief can leave many people feeling hopeless and frustrated with its long lasting affects.  If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, here are 4 things you can do to manage your grieving process in a healthy way.

Self care.

Self care is critical right now.  Self care looks different for everyone and it is not selfish.  Regular exercise, good nutrition, prioritizing sleep, connecting with trusted friends and family members, mindfulness, meditation, and connecting to nature are great ways to practice self care and put your needs first.  Self care allows us space to tap into our subconscious feelings and thoughts and process them in a healthy manner.  Self care lets us get to know the authentic person inside and embrace our emotional functions. 

Practice Grace & Gratitude.

“Grace releases and affirms. It doesn’t smother. Grace values the dignity of individuals. It doesn’t destroy. Grace supports and encourages. It isn’t jealous or suspicious.” – Charles Swindoll

Grace gives us space to do the things we enjoy and honor our experiences.  Focusing on what we have and those in our community who are loving and caring helps us stand firm in giving ourselves grace.  Try making a gratitude jar.  Put 20-30 things you are grateful for in the jar and every morning pull one new thing out of the jar you are grateful for.  Practicing gratitude is an active way to give ourselves grace and be good to ourselves. 

Say no to “should”.

Many of us struggle with I “should” send that gift, I “should” help that friend, I “should” have done more.  The past is behind us, the future is uncertain but we do have the present.  Telling ourselves we “should” instead of “can I” or “do I feel” keeps us in a space of punishing ourselves, which is the opposite of grace. 

Ask for help. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Grief can be isolating and sometimes if we don’t find outlets to process our grief it can turn on us, leaving unhealthy ways to cope such as drinking, drugs, and other unhealthy behaviors.  Know you are not alone. Talk to a mental health professional, a best friend, or someone in your church community.  They can normalize your feelings and provide accountability for your journey in healing. 

Black Lives Matter…and We’re Exhausted!

During this time, I have been wanting to post something but unsure what to say. One of my clients said it poignantly, “I’m exhausted at times, in rage at times, and numb at times”. So, this letter my sister wrote to her colleagues at Harvard University sums up my sentiments. I hope everyone is staying safe out there.

Dear Colleagues,

The last week has been hard.  Discrimination, pain, and injustice followed by outrage and desperate calls for change and accountability.  Peaceful protests and compassion followed by confrontations and escalating violence.  All during a time when our nation has lost over 100,000 lives to COVID-19 and when uncertainty and worry persists in what is ahead for public health, our education systems, and the social safety net for millions of unemployed.  The search for hope and a way forward during these turbulent times feels all the more urgent and daunting.

I wish I was writing you with answers.  I wish that I could express boundless optimism and faith in all that is good.  But that wouldn’t be honest.  Like many of you, I am feeling hurt and anger and exhaustion.  I am both bewildered by something that should be so simple—showing respect and decency to one another—and outraged by the continual, seemingly unending barrage of examples (sometimes backed by video) of the injustice suffered just for being a Black person.

So much of the discussion related to these recent events is tied up in this notion of what America is.  Simply put, America—or any society or community—is what individuals make it.  Yes, this country was founded on the important ideals of liberty, but we know those rights were narrowly defined by our founders to include only a subset of human beings.  And though we have taken steps forward through laws and policies, it’s crucial to question whether we, as a country, have really interrogated what equality and respect for all means in practice.  The injustices we have seen in recent weeks are not new, and we are only seeing a small fraction of the million little cuts that take place each and every day.  It’s time to stop believing that we will be a better society without the hard work of confronting and addressing what is fundamentally wrong.  This is especially the case as we try to figure out what life will be post-COVID, realizing that the return to “normal” in America is not forward progress for far too many. Going back to what was normal a few months ago would mean continuing to ignore the pernicious ways this country sanctions how certain groups—in particular, people of color—do not fully get to enjoy the freedoms and protections of our laws and institutions.  During the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike, Black men wore signs stating, “I am a man.”  And yet, over 50 years later, “normal” still means ignoring the humanity and dignity of an individual because of his or her skin color.

So many are hurting right now, and frankly, this transcends race.  We are witnessing human rights violations—the act of George Floyd calling out for his mother as his life was slipping away is a reminder of the universally human aspects of these devastating moments.  To George, Ahmaud, Breonna, Chris, Tamir, Trayvon, the Charleston 9, Sandra, Philando, Eric, Freddie, and so many, many others: I pray that the deep injustices you experienced will serve as the foundation to building something so much better for all of us.  Beyond the Black community, I also think about Latinx and Native American communities, who face similarly differential treatment by the legal system and who have also suffered disproportionately high mortality rates with COVID-19.  And I think about members of the Asian community who have been the targets of slurs and aggression in response to the assertion that China is to blame for the pandemic, and members of Jewish communities who have faced an unthinkable resurgence in anti-Semitism in recent years.  Finally, I think about the children at the U.S. border, forcibly separated from their parents in ways our government would never, ever tolerate if their skin color were lighter.

Yes, things are dark right now, and for many, they have been dark for a very long time.  But even as I acknowledge that, I find myself searching for a way to somehow make things better.  And so, as I often do, I throw myself into my work.  I’m incredibly thankful to be a part of the HGSE community—a group of people working to make things better in the world.  For over two decades, I have been bolstered by the optimism, dedication, and new ideas of every entering cohort of students, and I have learned so much from my colleagues about innovative ways to address long-standing inequities.  But that’s only a start.  And it’s clearly not enough. As Nicholas Johnson, the first Black valedictorian of Princeton discussed in his speech, “let us build a better normal.”

So, as we look ahead, I stand with you searching for ways to make things better.  To those of you feeling pain, I send you comfort and the encouragement to lean on the HGSE Community—one that is made up of people who will provide support, camaraderie, compassion, and strength and the space to be heard.   And I join the chorus of people emphasizing the importance of voting and activism, policy and research, along with the everyday principles of transparency and accountability.  I also highlight the need for personal introspection and conversations within and among our own families.  And I look forward to what I don’t yet know about—other creative strategies that peace-loving people will develop to help us all take positive steps towards a better future.

Be well,


Mental Illness Through The Eyes of African Americans, Queen & Slim, the Movie

On a cold Wednesday night I decided to check out the movie, Queen & Slim. I laughed, I cried, I got angry and weary, and I went home with so much on my mind that evening. The 2019
American film was directed by Melina Matsoukas and written by Lena Waithe. It’s taken from a story by James Frey and Waithe.

The film starts off with a traffic stop gone wrong and two African-Americans quickly go on the run after killing a police officer during a traffic stop. In the United States,
African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police
than white people. For black women, the rate is 1.4 times more likely

(Edwards, Lee, & Esposito 2018). Queen & Slim does a wonderful job of playing off the two main characters, one sharing similar values to Martin Luther King, and the other with Malcolm X. As they journey through the film, Queen’s deafening strength out of necessity, and Slim’s faith aligns with every decision that they make.

As I watched the film I couldn’t help but think about the mental health of African Americans, particularly African American Men. As African Americans, we all process race and equality in ways that are personal and help us assimilate and adapt to an unfair society. In the movie, Slim’s hope that things will turn out okay brings an honest realization that African American men need more support around metal health and how to cope with a failing society that doesn’t allow their stories to be told.

If you haven’t seen the film I highly recommend it. Watch it, go with friends, talk and process the film afterwards. Films like this can be therapeautic in their own way and push us to grow. Queen & Slim, unfortunately, isn’t a unique story. We’ve heard too many stories of the injustices that black people continue to face at the hands of the law with no, to little, justice. This film is a reminder of the continued work that needs to be done.

Welcome to 2018! Focus on the PRESENT!

Welcome to 2018! Thank God we are here! So much happened in 2017. So much so that it took me two additional months to write my “beginning the New Year” blog post! I can’t express how happy I am that 2017 is over and like the saying goes, to think in the past is to be in a depressive state. But, to think into the future is to be in an anxious state. So, this year my goal is to focus on the now. As a psychotherapist, this is something I preach to my clients regularly. However, I don’t always practice what I preach.

2018 has brought in such joy already, with Black Panther being released in February. I had the pleasure of experiencing the film with my two sons. I can’t explain the joy that came over me to see beautiful, powerful, main characters that were unapologeticaly Black. With all that 2017 has forced into our lives, new president, forced ideals, and overt racism everywhere you look, it’s hard to stay mentally healthy.

When talking to my parents shortly after the election in November of 2017, I pleaded with them in panic, “what are we going to do”!? My dad explained, “Leslie, we’ve been through much worse. Think about it. I saw Nixon become president. I remember when schools were becoming desegregated, and the tension in the south during the Civil Rights Movement. We must always go on”. Those words were profound to me and have continued to reasonate. When I hear people say what’s the big deal about Black Panther I believe my dad’s sentiments sum it up quite nicely. These little wins or instances where we can truly love on ourselves and be proud collectively should be celebrated.

So, with that, lets live in the now in 2018! What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? Be it, today!

My Visit to Rivermend Treatment Center, Bluff Plantation

This past February, I had the chance to visit Rivermend Treatment Center in Augusta, Georgia. The treatment center is located in the beautiful, tree filled scenery of Bluff Plantation and offers a comprehensive approach to addiction treatment. The residential addiction treatment and rehabilitation center offers those seeking addiction recovery a discrete and private setting with 178 acres on the Savannah River. The center is breathtaking and the staff are welcoming and well-informed.

Rivermend offers patients treatment for alcohol and drug dependency, dual disorders, and chronic pain. Clients receive multi-dimensional, evidence-based therapeutic modalities from some the world’s preeminent experts in pain and addiction medicine. The program is led by their Medical Director, William S. Jacobs, M.D., a nationally recognized pain and addiction medicine expert, triple board certified in Anesthesiology, Pain Medicine and Addiction Medicine. I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Jacobs and was immediately impressed by his knowledge and attentiveness to his patients’ needs.

During my 2-day visit, I was amazed at how my stress melted away, as I visited Bluff Plantation and met the Rivermend team. The highlight of my trip was visiting the equine therapy staff and viewing some of the horses. While visiting the equine area, each staff member and volunteer shared their intimate stories on addiction and their relationship with Rivermend. It was an emotional experience and really gave me a great picture of what Rivermend is all about. I would highly recommend Rivermend to anyone who is suffering with addiction and is looking for a getaway, where they can not only detox and get clean, but have an introspective experience.

RiverMend Health specially trained behavioral health counselors and nurses provide an array of therapeutic modalities, including group, family and individual counseling, patient and family education, and recovery coaching. As an added plus, patients experience yoga, equine therapy, and healthy eating. Their excellent chef prepares unforgettable meals specifically for addiction recovery. His philosophy includes decreasing sugar, preparing more lean proteins, and balancing patient’s diet with fresh, vegetables.

Want to learn more? Recovery is a phone call way. Call 877-652-3609.