Breaking Down Barriers to Mental Health by Raising Cultural Awareness

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September 29, 2022

African American Mental Health and Wellness (AMEN) team is collaborating with KAZI FM 88.7 in producing a radio series to highlight the importance of addressing mental health and physical wellness in the African American community. The monthly series will feature AMEN team members from the School of Nursing, leaders from Mt. Zion Baptist and Rehoboth Baptist churches, and community organizations who provide mental health resources and support in Travis County. 

Breaking Down Barriers to Mental Health by Raising Cultural Awareness

September 28, 2022 Podcast:

Audio file

Co-moderators Shannon W. Jones and Jacki Hecht interviewed Theresa Libios - a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice and a mental health specialist with a local school district. Ms. Libios has dedicated her career to decreasing mental health barriers and increasing cultural awareness.

Historically, African Americans have had to bear an enormous burden of grief and loss, and this has only grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Grief is an emotional reaction to loss that often involves suffering. It goes beyond losing a loved one and can affect individuals in many ways. There are different types of grief such as anticipatory, delayed, complicated, or disenfranchised. For example, anticipatory grief may start when a person gets a life-threatening medical diagnosis that is likely to result in loss of functioning (physical or mental) or death. Anticipatory grief may be experienced by the person with the health threat and/or their loved ones. Delayed grief is when someone pushes off their grief reaction, rather than responding to it right away. Complicated grief is like being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps the person from healing. It often involves painful emotions of loss that continue over time and interfere with the person’s functioning and well-being. Disenfranchised grief may occur when someone experiences a loss and others do not acknowledge the loss.

We often want to offer comfort to someone who is grieving, and yet It’s hard to know what to say. Theresa explains that because loss is unique to the person experiencing it, one way to show support to those who are grieving is to simply offer condolences. The grieving person may not know what type of help or support they need, nor know how to ask for it. Therefore, we can also show support by being present with the grieving person and offering specific forms of help (e.g., offering to do chores, bring a meal, babysit, etc.) As we begin to approach the holiday season, it can be particularly hard for people who are grieving. Ms. Libios suggests that an important way of taking care of ourselves through our grief process is to acknowledge our emotions and give ourselves permission to feel them.

It is also important to recognize how minors and children may be experiencing loss, as they may not show typical signs of grieving. We can prepare and support them through their grief by being honest about the situation, give them permission to grieve in their own way, and offer comfort. Theresa Libios recommends navigating through grief by attending support groups, church services, and the book Grief is Love: Living with Loss by Marisa Renee Lee. Ms. Libios reminds listeners that grief is a unique experience, and it is important to not compare our grieving process with someone else’s. She reminds us that grief is a communal experience and that healing often happens by staying connected with others.

For more information visit the Austin Center for Grief and Loss and the Christi Center.

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