Mental health boot camp removing stigma

Paige Tucker and Felicia Pizana


ST. PETERSBURG — Mental health issues are finally being exposed and spoken about in the black community, removing years of silence and secrecy.  The statistics are becoming increasingly alarming.

According to the 2013-14 report from the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, adult African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report severe psychological distress than their white counterparts, and black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than white teens.

Belle B, an organization that was formed to motivate, encourage and support girls and young women, utilized their MLK Day of Service award to address the debilitating effects of mental health issues with a one-day workshop entitled Belle B Mental Health Boot Camp Movement.

Felicia D. Pizana, founder and CEO of Belle B, said the workshop aims “to promote mental health education, awareness, advocacy and early effective intervention as a community.”

She feels African Americans are sometimes ashamed of the stigma surrounding mental health and have grown accustomed to ignoring issues instead of reaching out for help.

“When we talk about mental health, we’re talking about our mental wellbeing, our emotions, our thoughts and feelings; our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, our social connections and our understanding of the world around us,” explained Pizana, who holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology.

Pizana explained that mental illness affects the way people think, feel, behave and interact with others and that there are many different types of mental illnesses, which have different symptoms and impact people’s lives in different ways.

According to Pizana, one of the most pervasive forms of mental illness is depression.

“It’s a sunken place we can fall into,” she stated. “You have to learn to move through it; it’s not unnatural, but you have to learn how to get through it. It’s a serious state of mind and should be dealt with very seriously. It is not about just being sad; it’s deeper than that because it can be debilitating if it is not addressed effectively.”

There are several warning signs that can point to a possible problem with the breakdown of mental health. Stress and trauma are vital factors, but also inconsistent behavior, irrational thinking that’s not in line with reality and an aversion to daily tasks such as going to school or work.

Unhealthy emotions can arise with life’s stresses and strains, but according to Pizana, there are avenues one can take to achieve a healthy mental state and maintain a positive attitude. Local resources are available including the Department of Pinellas County and the Well for Healthy Living founded by Dr. LaDonna Butler.

Pizana and certified mental health first aid instructor Paige Tucker teamed up for the Jan. 16 workshop held at the St. Petersburg College Midtown campus to educate and bring awareness to mental health issues the youth may experience. Both adults and children learned how to spot warning signs and coping mechanism.

“Our mental health is vital to our emotional wellbeing and impacts everything,” Pizana averred. “Whatever we can do together and responsibly as individuals is crucial. I think of it as a flower bud needing to grow. We have to cultivate and nature it.”

Belle B will also have an information station set up at the third annual MLK Dream Big Family Fun Day at Tropicana Field on Monday, Jan. 21 after the parade. Swag bags with stress balls, journals and healthy snacks will be given out, and information on mental health will be available.

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