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The Mental Wealth Corner

 

The Battle: Black Churches in the South VS

Mental Health Aid

By Sierra Porter

It was a quintessential Sunday at Union Tabernacle Baptist Church of Americus, Georgia, on
Nov.10, 2013. Except for one thing: Pastor Teddy Parker Jr. of Bibb Mt. Zion Baptist Church
had yet to deliver the celebration sermon for Pastor Larry B. Sim's anniversary.

The congregation filled the brown benches of the church, feet planted firmly on the blue carpet.
The lights shine down on church-goers like spotlights, and white walls surround them like Angel
wings.

 

Pastor Parker's wife, Larrinecia Sims Parker, and their two daughters sat on a bench among
others, waiting for their beloved Pastor Parker to lead them into worship, but in vain. Uneasiness
spread in the pews. Pastor Paul Little, 41, also sat with his wife Natalie, waiting for Pastor
Parker.

"You could see people moving and running throughout the sanctuary; it was like something
doesn't feel right," said Pastor Little over a Zoom call. "He didn't believe in being late. He was always a very timely person."

Fearing Pastor Parker got into an accident, Larrinecia (the daughter of Pastor Sims) left with
other church members back to Macon, an hour and 19 minutes from Americus, to find out where

her husband was. Their daughters stayed at the church, and Pastor Little was asked to preach in
Pastor Parker's place. Church continued without him.

Following the church service, Pastor Little, his wife, Pastor Parker's daughters, and other
members stayed behind, waiting for more information on the missing pastor's whereabouts. Then
a phone call. Larrinecia had returned to the driveway of their Warner Robins home to find her
husband sitting in his car — dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"It was chaotic," said Pastor Little following the devastating news. " mean, it was … we were
broken. I mean, our pastor was a very loving individual, very caring. He was introverted by
nature but very friendly and pleasant to be around. It shook us to the core."

Perhaps Pastor Parker's death was foreshadowed. In a 2010 sermon on YouTube titled "Facing
Your Storm With Confidence," Pastor Parker said: "There are times in my life when I'm going
through some stuff where I can't feel God there. I try to pray, but I don't feel like God is hearing
me."

I try to serve, but I don't feel like God is using me," he continued. "And there are times in your
life when God purposely withdraws from you. He doesn't withdraw for the sake of leaving you,
but he withdraws so you can grow and mature."

According to Pastor Little, Pastor Parker did seek help for his mental struggles but couldn't step
away from the church. "He (Pastor Parker) was diagnosed bipolar," said Pastor Little. However,

other reports say he was diagnosed with depression, friend Dr. E. Dewey Smith Jr. of the House
of Hope Atlanta told Christian News reporters.

According to the US HHS Office of Minority Health, adult African-Americans are more likely to
have feelings of sadness and hopelessness than adult whites. Sixteen percent (4.8 million) of
Black people reported having a mental illness, and 1.1 million Black people reported a severe
mental illness over the past year. Severe mental issues also rose among all ages of Black people
between 2008 and 2018.

Black people still suffer from poverty, police brutality, and the pandemic, adding layers of
trauma. In a document published by Psychiatry.org, the pandemic created a mountain of mental
health issues for Black people due to separation from friends and family, grief over the loss of
family and friends, financial stress, etc. Additionally, Psychiatric Times reported that 42% of
Black adults with a severe mental illness received no treatment in 2018.

To add gasoline to the fire, 2015 American Psychiatric Association (APA) data shows that just
two percent of the estimated 41,000 psychiatrists in the U.S. are Black. And four percent of
psychologists are Black - leaving limited Black mental health specialists to help serve the
community.

Black clients who decide to seek mental help prefer Black mental health specialists. Theorists
argued that white mental health service providers could not help Black people due to possibly

not understanding Black culture, history, and Black people's struggles in a predominantly white
society.

Pastor Parker was just one of many Black people who dedicated their lives to the Lord and lifted
their voices for praise and worship while battling the inner demons that tug at their spirits. For
centuries, Black folks held deep beliefs in Christianity, and the church served as a haven for
Black people in the Jim Crow South. But before the Jim Crow South, Civil Rights Movement,
and even the Black Panther Party, there was slavery. So worship became an escape from the
daily brutality enslaved people faced, wrote Lisa Sutton in "What Role Does The African-
American Church Play When Meeting The Mental Health Needs of Its African- American
Parishioners?"

In a national survey by the National Mental Health Association (NMHA; 1998), 63 % of African
-Americans thought that depression is a personal weakness. In a 2010 Conner, Copeland, Grote,
Rosen, et al. (2010) study, older African-American adults also believed depression was a mark of
weakness and the lack of one's inner strength. Overwhelmingly, there's an overall stigma
regarding seeking therapy in the Black community.

The church can often help push the mental health stigma by believing church-goers can pray
mental health issues away. Other reasons for stigma in the Black community include not wanting
to acknowledge the psychological problems, barriers to accessing adequate health care, and lack
of understanding of mental health.


I also once believed I could pray my mental health struggles away. I was raised Southern Baptist
and attended Ray of Hope Chrisitan Church in Decatur, Georgia. I held in my mental and
emotional wounds for years until I was admitted to Peachford Hospital for behavioral health
treatment in Atlanta, Georgia, at 17. I was diagnosed with severe depression. After several
suicide attempts and the diagnosis of bipolar disorder II, it took me years to get on track with my
mental health with therapy and medication.

Pastor Little is unlike me. He sought help outside the church when he found out he was suffering
from anxiety. "About three years ago, I experienced chronic fatigue, burnout," he said. "It gave
way to a lot of physical ailments and psychological ailments." Then the pandemic. Then the loss
of his father in February - the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Then the diagnosis of his
lymphedema - a form of cancer. Everything seemed to pile on Pastor Little at once. But, he
continued to attend regular therapy, adding grief counseling to his self-care regime, and went on
sabbatical from the church.

"The practical steps that I took to address those issues when they came up. I didn't put it aside
and say, 'Man, I feel so funny. Mm, no, it's nothing," said Pastor Little. "I went immediately and
talked to the therapist, and when I felt stuff in my body, I easily went to the doctor."

Pastor Little, a husband of 13 years with no children, started ministry at age 19 but never
completed a Theology program. He then filled the shoes of someone he had called a brother
since he was 21.


Pastor Parker was laid to rest on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at 11 a.m. at the Fellowship Bible
Baptist Church in Warner Robins, Georgia - where he was ordained at age 22. He had served as
pastor of Bibb Mt. Zion Baptist Church since July 1997.

The death of Pastor Parker still has a lasting effect on Pastor Little. "I still have moments where I
think about him and that day because I was a part of that day,"he said. "It's forever etched into
my history and the history of our church."

People like Pastor Little combined the word of God, the church, and mental health specialists
during trying times, but not everyone counts on the church or even the pastor. For example, Dr.
Lena G.Clark, the owner of Miracle Mind Global' (mindset coaching) in Atlanta, Georgia, wasn't
aware of her husband Norris Clark's mental issues of schizophrenia and depression.

They owned their own business, Care Oasis educating and assisting
individuals with mental illness by providing resources and affordable housing. Norris would
often light a joint as they would leave the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church parking lot in
Stonecrest, Georgia, to self-medicate.

Her husband committed suicide in 2008, a week before Christmas. The father of their two
children shot himself with a rifle and silenced it with a pair of blue jeans while Clark was sitting
in the driveway waiting for him to take them to their family business. Norris's battle with mental
health issues was a secret revealed to Clark by her mother-in-law, who happens to be a pastor.


Following her husband's passing that year, Clark said she spoke to Pastor Bishop Eddie Long of
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church after he gave the eulogy for her husband. "He called me
when my husband died, and I was like, 'He's gone now; it's too late," said Clark. "It took my
husband's death to get their attention. Bishop Long promised, saying, 'will participate, support
your business, and he would no longer sweep it under the rug. But that never happened."

Pastor Long later died on Jan.15, 2017. According to a statement from the church, his death was
described as an "aggressive form of cancer."

Clark still finds the church lacking in pushing for mental health help among their congregations.
She held on to deep-rooted anger toward her husband following his suicide and said the church
has to take some responsibility. "When you take that oath or title, that's huge. You'e dealing
with people's souls, so you all missed it; you passed the buck."

While Clark has strong views due to her experience with the church and the pastor, some pastors
in the Black church are evolving when it comes to seeking mental health help, something that
didn't happen 50 years, even 20 years ago.

"I think that churches are more open to it, but churches also like to be trendy," said Youth Pastor
Marissa Akery of Impact Church in Atlanta, Georgia. "And so, now that mental health has
become such a relevant topic these days, I see a lot of churches putting on events, especially
during this pandemic, so I see mental health symposiums."


However, Akery noted that the church isn't "necessarily" providing adequate resources to tackle
mental health head-on. But pastors, especially in her generation, are suggesting therapy. For
example, a care pastor at Impact Church will sit down with congregation members for three
sessions. Then, if there is a more significant issue, the care pastor will refer that person to a
therapist, Akery said.

"I am seeing some progress, but I think we're really in the beginning stages," she added. "But at
least, as a church, I think we are tackling this idea of, 'Hey, this is a demonic thing.' 'This is
something that you can just pray away.' I think we're getting away from that."

Danielle and Saun Ware, pastors of WordUp Worship Center in Marrow, Georgia, share three
children and have been married for 20 years. Both noted that church isn't an antidote for proper
healing. Danielle shared that people can be healed with the help of therapy and still hold onto
traditional values.

"If we use the resources that heaven has given us, prayer, fasting, meditation in the word, the
Lord will begin to give us a direction that can use man to heal us," said Saun. "Go talk to the
therapist. Maybe you'll be able to communicate what's going on and break up that hard ground so
treatment and healing can begin."

Akery said it's more women than men seeking help from a therapist. "The general population, I
still think, is still an inclination of women over men," Akery said. "I still think the stigma is
there. And it's there for women too, but I think it's more robust for men. And I don't know what
it's going to take to tackle that."

However, Pastor Little's church now has a wide range of mental health initiatives that benefit
both men and women. There's a licensed mental health facility for members and people in the
community. Bibb Mt. Zion Baptist Church also works with those with post-traumatic stress
disorder. There's a mental health counseling center called New Dawn and a mental wellness
ministry offering mental health counseling to any member or individual in the community who
cannot afford a therapist.

So, where does the battle stand between Black churches in the south and mental health aid
today? "I talk about my journey to normalize it for our people," said Pastor Little. "Sometimes,
there are some things that we can pray away. There are some things that we gotta talk away.
There are some things that we may need to go and get some medicine for. Different people need different things."

 

Yes, Addiction Is Real

By Bianca Hannon

 

Addiction defined as "a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences." People who struggle with addiction often have some kind of impairment in daily functioning.

"Addiction is real. It effects everyone.” While speaking to a colleague about his job and experience working at a treatment center, those were his first words.

In our community, addiction is normally viewed as a choice, rather than a disease and something that should be treated. People are often told to "just stop drinking," or "just stop smoking." It's not that easy.

We've witnessed DMX and his struggle with addiction throughout his career, along with many other celebrities. I'm sure we all know someone who struggles with addiction. It's not easy to deal with. 

 

How to help someone you love with an addiction:

 

First, there has to be an understanding of self-determination. Everyone has control of their own lives. Unfortunately, if they don't want help, there is nothing you can do. The only time there isn't much control is if the treatment is court-mandated. 

 

If the person does want help, educating them is very important. As the saying goes, those who know better, do better. Supporting your loved one is extremely important because this can be a rough time. Having support in the treatment center and not in the home will increase the chances of relapse.

Also, finding a treatment center in your area will be helpful. Treatment for addiction is long-term. It is not something you can do for 2 months and think you'll be fine. That will just make the chance for relapse higher. Even though it is part of the change cycle, it can't be viewed as an automatic failure once someone relapses. 

 

According to my colleague, in a perfect therapeutic world, if the person relapses, they will be able to understand their triggers and why they relapsed to prevent it from happening in the future. This is part of the reason it is important to find a treatment center so your loved one can get the most help.

 

I know a couple of treatment centers in Atlanta. To find one in your area, SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has a treatment locator that may be helpful.

 

Learning about mental health and addiction is a privilege. It is not something commonly spoken about. Even though we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. Continue to educate others, prioritize your mental health, and live your best life. 

 

Yes, your mental health and wellbeing matters. 

Your Mental Health is a Priority

By Bianca Hannon

 

I’m sure you all have heard the story about Naomi Osaka prioritizing her mental health and was FINED for it? Naomi Osaka, a Tennis champion, simply chose not to speak to the press after the next tournament. Because of this, she was fined $15,000 and threatened with expulsion from the French Open.

 

Now how does being fined for prioritizing your mental health make sense?

 

Now we know how those sports press people can be- asking questions to stir up a reaction or just make athletes look bad. There’s too much drama and I honestly don’t blame Naomi.

 

Prioritizing our mental health is not the easiest thing to do. It can be seen as selfish by friends or family members. In the words of my aunt, “putting yourself first is not selfish, it is self-care.”

 

In my interview this past week with ForTheCulture Atlanta, I spoke about the importance of self-care and setting boundaries. Check that out here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CtPXbZuyBec

 

Self-care is difficult. Sometimes, it’s hard to make time. Other times, we just don’t know what to do for self-care. So how do we get through that?

 

Find what you love and what you enjoy doing. It’s okay to change it up and try new things - you might discover some things about yourself.

 

Setting boundaries is part of self-care. Understanding what you can do, and what you’re not willing to do or compromise is important- no matter what.

 

We often try to be “captain save-a-h*e” and put everyone else before us. We have to make sure everyone else is okay. We feel obligated to other people- but why? I want us to be like Naomi Osaka and prioritize ourselves and our mental health. Naomi’s silence is everything because to me, it simply means she is doing exactly what she said she is doing - putting her mental health first.

 

Understand that “No” is a complete sentence and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

 

I feel like I sound like a broken record because I talk about self-care and putting yourself first so often, however I just want it to get through to you guys. I’m not saying to never do anything for anyone again. I’m encouraging you guys to listen to your bodies, practice mindfulness, and know when you need some time for yourself.

 

What’s your favorite boundary? And do you enforce those boundaries?

 

What are your thoughts on the Naomi Osaka situation?

I’m here to say your mental health matters and it should be prioritized.

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