Engage San Francisco’s Mind, Body and Soul

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Dr. Lisa De La Rue is an Assistant Professor in the Counseling Psychology Department, where she also serves as the fieldwork coordinator for the Marriage and Family Therapy program.

Eat fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. We are all familiar with the common pieces of advice to promote wellness, and to fight off physical diseases. If we actually follow that advice … well that is another question. But what can you do to prevent depression? How do you cope with difficult life experiences? How do you manage symptoms of anxiety? Fewer people would have ideas on how to address these needs, despite the reality that millions of adults and children experience mental illness in a given year. Many cannot answer this question because we largely keep conversations about mental illness in the shadows, where it takes on a certain taboo, a stigma that we do not see when talking about physical ailments. As a result many people do not know what to do when they or someone they love is suffering from mental health concerns, let alone know where to access services.  

As a psychologist, and a professor who works to train the next generation of clinicians, I am constantly thinking about how to raise awareness of mental health and to increase knowledge around how to access support services. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in a given year, and 1 in 25 adults will experience a serious mental illness that will interfere with their ability to engage in one or more life activities (e.g. work, being with friends or family, going to school). Additionally, 1 in 5 young people between the ages of 13 and 18 will experience a severe mental illness within a given year. Despite these numbers, too many people do not receive the treatment or support they need to get better, and just like with a physical disease, untreated mental health concerns can get worse.  

We know that one of the barriers to people receiving the support they need is a result of the stigma associated with mental illness. Name-calling, derogatory terms, and dramatized negative portrayals of people with mental illness all contribute to an atmosphere where people may be reluctant to share their struggles or to seek out support. Part of addressing this stigma is to increase awareness of mental health and illness. Another barrier to addressing mental health concerns is a lack of awareness around where to access services. Some people may not realize that mental health treatment can address the symptoms they are experiencing. For others, they may know treatment is needed but do not know where to look for these services.

Addressing these barriers is an essential component of ensuring people with mental health concerns get the support they need and have the opportunity to live healthier and happier lives. The Mind, Body and Soul Pop-Ups provide an example of how to address these exact barriers.  

Engage San Francisco’s Mind, Body, and Soul Pop-Ups  are community based resource fairs that bring together service providers from across the Western Addition. These Pop-Ups provide community members with information on services available in their community, and educational materials on how to promote physical, mental and spiritual wellness. Spaces like these provide a wonderful avenue in which to increase awareness of mental health and treatment, in manner that feels safer. For example, someone can come in to gather information on nutrition, and then casually wonder to the next table where information is being provided about depression.  Not only does this format increase the number of people who are provided with information, but can also allows those who may feel stigmatized to gather information in a manner that is less overwhelming. Having conversations about mental illness, and wellness, alongside conversations about managing diabetes helps reduce stigma around mental health treatment and places it in the realm of diseases that can be treated. And indeed this is the realm in which it belongs.

As we continue to have conversations about mental wellness in the Western Addition, the hope is that some of the stigma around mental illness will be reduced. This can allow more people to feel comfortable seeking out support, which can help prevent a mental illness from getting worse. However, reducing stigma is just one part of the puzzle; people also need to know where they can access treatment. Events like the Mind, Body, and Soul Pop-Ups and efforts like the San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s program Black to the Future are wonderful examples of how to raise awareness of services that are available, and to encourage people to access these programs.

Mental illness is a disease that does not discriminate. It knows no age limits, and impacts people across racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. It is also a disease that often responds well to treatment and interventions. As such, community engaged efforts are essential to ensure that people can access the mental support services they need, and do not feel shame in doing so. 

The next Mind, Body and Soul event is on June 29th! Check out photos from February’s Mind, Body and Soul event here.

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Resiliency – as an Act of Political Welfare

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 Nolizwe Nondabula, Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator

   Engage San Francisco, USF Campus-Community Partnership

 

Reflecting back on my journey with USF’s Master of Arts in Urban Affairs program, I definitely did not see myself continuing a relationship with the Leo T. McCarthy Center after graduation in Spring of this year. My first year in the program was a critical time as the Movement for Black Lives gained momentum and the conversation between police and state violence on Black people made national headlines. My focus as a graduate student was on racial justice, which meant taking classes with an emphasis on racial policies, interning at Race Forward, and working with the Brown Boi Project and PolicyLink.

When I wasn’t in the classroom or in the office, I was on the bus to Ferguson, waking up Oakland’s Mayor Libby Schaaf, and shutting down the Bay Bridge. I was angry and determined to interrupt business as usual until folks knew that all Black Lives Matter.
And while my body told me to slow down, I refused to listen. The urgency I felt from the movement told me to find a way to balance my activism life with my academic life. And though I carried the magic of my ancestors, I soon realized that I also carried the weight of those that came before me.

As I began my last year of grad school, I burned out…hard. My anxiety was at an all-time high, I was tired of being tired, and the desensitization of Black death made it harder for me to attend class, go to work, or get out of bed.

Through the guidance and support of my tribe, I made appointments to see my therapist (and stuck with it) and I thus began to unpack my personal journey around mental health and trauma. This journey is not easy but as a Black Queer Woman living in the United States, it’s necessary. Said best by Audre Lorde, womanist, writer and civil activist,  “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political welfare.”

I believe that we will win this fight for equality, but we need the presence of everyone in the movement to do so. So what happens if, as another tactic, we focus on the resiliency of our communities? Both individually and collectively? In pursuit of my own healing, I’ve recognized my need to lean into the discomfort and stigmatization around trauma so that I can plant my seeds of affirmations and self-love.

So when I was told about the position of the Youth Health Alliance Program Coordinator as part of USF’s Engage San Francisco Campus-Community Partnership, I felt like I was planting another seed towards this continuous journey. Engage San Francisco is very hyper-local in its focus and is asset-based in its philosophy so I have had the privilege of witnessing community magic bask from within, while building relationships with different stakeholders. I’m honored to be a part of spaces where the collective passion and eagerness serves as the foundation to produce community-identified goals in the Western Addition.Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.23.12 AM.png

Within my position, my focus is on the emotional well-being of Western Addition youth. I work closely with Western Addition service providers, community members, city agencies and USF staff and faculty in crafting a shared vision of behavioral health. Last week, Engage San Francisco, in partnership with Rhonda Magee, USF Professor of Law with a Social Justice focus, started a 7-week course on Mindfulness and Compassion Based Skills for Stress Management. Classes are free and open to Western Service Providers and community members. And if the amount of vulnerability I’ve already seen is any indication of what’s to come, then I can only imagine how transformative this course will be for those enrolled.

I’m grateful to be a part of the conversation on youth wellness in the Western Addition. I look forward to learning from existing community partnerships while holding on to the fact that we are our ancestor’s wildest dreams. Because, in the end, we are the ones that we’ve been waiting for.

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