GWEN WILSON: Voicing & Vanquishing Our Deadly Taboos

sac-button-gwen-wilsonOPINION – African Americans have a wealth of strength and wisdom within our community. But there are also a lot of taboo issues that we are unwilling to allow our strength and wisdom to address. One of the biggest is our fear of trust and lack of feeling safe due to internalized oppression/depression. Some of us have learned to cope by dissociating from our trauma, fear, anger and disappointment.

When we do allow a bit of thought or remembrance to slip in, we become keenly aware of physical aches and pains that are far less stigmatizing to report. Even then, we remain silent until we’ve reached such high levels of distress that we experience health crisis. We don’t easily identify our physical pain as mental health-related.

When we do seek help, services offered to our community tend to be fragmented, inaccessible and culturally insensitive. Stereotyping and stigma are real challenges that impede too many community members at institutional levels, ultimately leading many in our community to not even bother trying to access services.

We suffer, voiceless.

This silence truly is deadly. We need to find culturally competent allies who hear, validate and understand how mental illness is expressed in the African American and other racial and ethnic communities.

Our community needs to own our birthright to wellness and recovery by finding our voice in the fight against stigma and historical taboos that continue to rob us of our health.

People can heal if they can get in touch with their barriers to wellness, like stigma, trauma and fear.

This is why I founded G.O.A.L.S. for Women back in 1997. I saw firsthand the damage to women caused by internalizing so much without being able to name it, talk about it, or have it validated and understood.

Our clinic counsels and supports women of color in overcoming life obstacles.

Here in Sacramento, we’re taking the mental health conversation out into the African American community county-wide. We train community members to facilitate informal group discussions called “Kitchen Table Talks” (KTTs) within their own social networks. KTT participants talk candidly about whatever’s going on in their lives. Inevitably, the conversation comes around to those taboos that are slowly killing them.

The typical feedback is, “Thank you for the opportunity to speak safely, without intimidation. I’ve never talked about those things before.”

Under our contract for suicide prevention with Sacramento County, we continue to train new KTT facilitators. We’re also hosting quarterly “Just Like Sunday Dinner” inter-generational, family events at sites throughout Sacramento County. We invite you to join the conversation and get involved. Contact our office manager at 916-285-1839 for dates and locations.

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By Gwen Wilson

Gwen Wilson, LCSW is Founder/Executive/Clinical Director-CEO of G.O.A.L.S. for Women of Sacramento and Berkeley.)