ENGLEWOOD — It’s the myth that refuses to die: Black people don’t prioritize mental health, or eschew treatment, preferring to instead rely on their faith.
It’s a myth that prevails despite all evidence to the contrary, particularly for Black Chicagoans who have protested the closure of mental health facilities on the South and West sides since 2011, the year former mayor Rahm Emanuel eliminated them to balance the budget.
Since then, community organizations have been forced to fill in the gap, often employing fresh, innovative ways of reaching out to the areas they serve.
Think Outside Da Block, an Englewood-based non-profit that focuses on youth development, along with Teamwork Englewood’s Public Safety Task Force, started #Getchamindright in January, a free quarterly event that takes a peer-on-peer approach to addressing mental health among teens and young adults.
The next event, targeted for teens and young adults ages 15-24, will be held from 6-8 p.m. Friday at the recently closed Harper High, 6520 S. Wood St. The night will feature performances from and discussion with several well-known Chicago artists, including Korporate, Prince Eazy, Teefa and Butta Da Prince.
Attendees can register ahead of the event online.
The idea was born out of the Englewood task force’s findings. In order to prevent crime, leaders need to be more proactive about addressing mental health and wellness in the neighborhood, said Lyana Funches, Think Outside Da Block’s executive director.
“When we initially started speaking with residents, there was a lack of understanding around what trauma was in the first place,” she said.
So Think Outside Da Block kicked off a campaign to educate residents, creating a 22-second video clip in which people repeated the definition of trauma. While the clip made its way around social media platforms, the organization used it to spread awareness in Englewood and West Englewood, reaching 10,000 residents.
Another program the organization operates, Ask, allows people to simply ask clinicians questions in a non-intimidating setting, which helps to demystify the stigma surrounding the issue.
“It’s addressing that part where current traumatic stress disorder becomes normal, that this is a part of your everyday living, and a lot of people don’t understand that that’s not a normal thing,” Funches said. “So we need to give people the tools to better deal with things as they happen.”
#Getchamindright also helps participants understand that they are not alone. On average, each event sees 100 people across all demographics.
Funches said participants are often surprised to learn they’re already employing a lot of the recommended, science-based coping mechanisms.
“They’ve been doing them, they just didn’t have a name for them,” she said. “So we do an activity called the ‘Healing Wall.’ As people enter the facility, they’re asked to write something that they do that makes them happy. And we got roughly 49 different activities that people engage in, and a lot of them are proven therapy methods.”
Another activity that resonated with people was the balloon ceremony, where each ballon had a different word based on the topic of the event.
“For our first one, we did the seven top identifiers of mental health. They chose a balloon that represented a feeling or emotion they’ve had, and then they release them into the atmosphere,” Funches said. “The first time we did it there were people crying, and it took me by surprise. I was caught off guard because I wasn’t properly prepared to deal with the emotions that just releasing balloons evokes from people.”
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