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Betty Lin-Fisher: Documentary, panel aim to 'Reduce the stigma of mental illness'
Akron Beacon Journal - 7/25/2021
In recent years, people have started to become more comfortable talking about mental health issues. But there's still a long way to go.
For many families, people grew up being told not to talk about certain things, including mental health, money and sex.
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In the Black community, there has been a particular stigma to mental health.
"When people say mental illness in the Black community, they say you're crazy," said Gloria A. Terry, founder of the nonprofit Grace Academy of Small Wonders and a mental health certified coach and grief recovery specialist. "That's a cruel word to use for mental distress or a psychological wound.
"We're trying to repackage it in a way where it's not looked at in a way that's negative or you're less than or you can't handle life or connotations that come with mental illness," Terry said.
Terry and a local filmmaker have created a documentary addressing the issue to get more people to talk about it and find the right resources for help. Too often, she said, minorities are less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment for mental illness and have less access to mental health services. Oftentimes, they also receive a poorer quality of care.
More: Racism in many forms can affect people's health: Here are some examples
"Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness" is a 55-minute locally produced documentary featuring mostly Summit County residents, pastors and professionals by Terry, who is the executive producer and director, and filmmaker James "Bobby" Heard.
The film started out as two short videos on the subject of adult and youth mental health funded by an $18,000 grant from the state of Ohio to reduce the stigma of mental illness. But Terry and Heard quickly realized they needed to do more than a short video.
They funded the documentary themselves and are hoping to get more grants and support to be able to get the film on a streaming service or a film festival.
They debuted the film in May at the Highland Theater in Akron to about 100 people They will show it for free again with a panel discussion afterward on Tuesday, July 27 at City of Joy Life Enrichment Center, 610 W. Exchange Street in Akron. Network and seating will start at 6:30 p.m. with the documentary beginning at 7 p.m. and the panel discussion afterward.
"The feedback was so positive and the target audience are educators, professionals and the community at large," said Terry.
Her nonprofit was started in 2012 as a way to empower elementary girls around character, awareness and etiquette. Terry started it after a relative was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in the mid to late 1990s and she could find very little support for the girl's depression and anxiety and her own depression from the incident.
After the film was previewed, Terry said people came up to her who needed help for their mental health issues and she helped connect them to resources.
That included a woman who needed resources for her 20-year-old son.
"She feels empowered. A grandmother came to me privately whose granddaughter had been sexually abused. We are touching areas that are real realities of the culture we live in and people are talking about it," said Terry.
The film features Terry and 13 others, including the Rev. Norm Douglas of St. Vincent de Paul Parish and Curtis Minter, senior pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church. They will be among the nine panelists for a discussion after the film's showing on Tuesday. Others include Brian Tolbert, a peer supporter/recovery coach at Community Support Services who is also in the film, and psychotherapist Curtis Kwodwo Williams.
"The whole idea is collaboration. We are being transparent. This is what happened to us. It's a part of life. It's OK. These are the resources available to help, to direct them," said Terry.
Heard, who works for a Christian television station, had done other film work but had not previously done a documentary.
"I've been wanting to do one, but didn't know on what," he said. "I got to think of the topic of mental health —I know that was huge, especially since last year and a lot going on around mental health and a lot going on that people do not know.
"I had a personal experience with some mental things last year; some things that came to the surface with me personally. It brought me closer and I was able to overcome those things and I was able to pay a little more attention to it" during filming, said Heard.
African-American men are four times as likely to die by suicide then African-American women, Terry said. One of the men in the documentary talks about his suicide attempt.
More: 'Fighting demons': Black men's deaths drive third year of increased suicides in Summit County
The role of the church also is addressed in the film, said Terry.
"The church hasn't done too good of a job or it depends on the church, especially with people with mental illness," Terry said. "Some people look at that as you need medication. Maybe you do or maybe not. Maybe you need prayer."
Heard, who like Terry is an ordained minister, said addressing mental health within the church is a challenge for pastors.
"There's a misconception of where do you draw the line. Is God allowing this? Is it Satan? Is it something you're born with? Pastors need directions," Heard said. "I know they want to help. Pastors can be overwhelmed to the point where it turns into mental health for them.
"It's trying to get churches on the same page so to speak," Heard said. "Pastors can be overwhelmed. You're not a doctor. You're a pastor. You don't want to give people wrong information but at the same time, what may seem good and right for you just may not be good and right for that particular person. It's very very sensitive."
Terry said one pastor told her "every pastor in the city of Akron needs to see this."
Additionally, while the film addresses the stigma of mental illness in the Black community, "it's not just for African Americans, but we do touch on it because we know that African Americans have been affected by it in great numbers," said Heard.
He added: "No one wants to be looked at as someone who has a mental issue. Someone who is out of control or doesn't have control of themselves. That's a huge fear. We're trying to get people to talk about it more."
For more information about the film and Tuesday's event, including a full list of panelists, go to https://reducingthestigmaofmentalillness.info/
Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ. To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher.
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