Andre Davis and his mother, Annette, drove from Goliad to Victoria on Thursday night looking for help.
A 16-year-old student at Goliad High School, Andre, like many of his peers, deals with anxiety and depression.
“He’s going through a lot, and it has been like that for years,” his mother said. “We’ve seen counselors and psychiatrists, but it is like nobody’s breaking through… I really need help and more resources.”
The Davis family were among more than 25 people who filled the pews at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church on Thursday night for the second of four seminars on youth mental health. Rev. Jeff Williams, the church’s youth minister, and Rev. Vernon I. Garza, the church’s pastor, partnered with the Victoria County Public Health Department’s grant-funded Be Well Victoria project for the seminars after deciding they needed to address mental illness.
“We had some youth who have seen and been a part of some attempted suicides that happened right here in Victoria, and it troubled them,” Williams said. “So our pastor saw the need for us to do something, and thus we started this initiative of ‘Let’s start talking about mental health, anxiety and depression.’ Some of the things we talked about at that time (of the first seminar) was the fact that in the African American community there still is a stigma associated with mental health, so we wanted to bring these issues up to the forefront.”
Adult African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious psychological distress than their non-Hispanic white peers, according to the Health and Human Services Department Office of Minority Health. While African Americans are overall less likely to die from suicide than their peers, African American teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide.
Studies have shown that those struggling with mental illness in black communities are less likely to receive formal treatment because cultural barriers, including the stigma surrounding mental illness and fear of treatment, prevent people from acknowledging psychological problems and seeking professional help.
The seminar was given by Cameo Mead, a counselor with Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, who was asked to speak by Jizyah Shorts, a community health worker with Be Well Victoria.
Mead is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy – a psychotherapy treatment originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.
Through Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., Mead counsels clients who either do not have mental health service benefits covered through their existing health insurance or cannot afford counseling services and would not otherwise receive treatment. Prior to becoming a community counselor, Mead served in the U.S. Navy and as a police officer in Florida and Texas.
Mead feels blessed to be able to serve the community and those who otherwise might not be able to receive treatment.
“I don’t think there are enough resources that people can afford,” she said. “Our insurance system seriously needs to be fixed, (and) we need more psychiatrists in the area and more specialty counselors.”
During the seminar, she discussed the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety and gave parents and youth tools they can use to help themselves or those around them.
“Ninety-nine percent of the change is on you; counselors just give the tools,” she said. “Regular counseling is convincing somebody that they need to make a change, and change is hard.”
Mead stressed that mental illnesses, such as clinical depression and anxiety, are real, as is trauma. She urged attendees to be brave and ask for help from those around them.
“What does somebody with depression look like? It can look like anybody,” she said. “Is he depressed? It is good to ask. That is the whole point here – you don’t need to assume; just ask.”
As much as someone may want to, they cannot fix other people’s problems, Mead said.
“We don’t make other people do things,” she said. “We encourage them and if it gets to a dangerous point, you go with them to a doctor or you call 911.”
The candid discussion about mental health resonated with parents and youth like Andre, who said the presentation reminded him that he is not alone in his struggle.
“It was very helpful,” he said. “Everything she was saying really related to what I am going through.”