2020 has been a challenging year.
A global pandemic has disrupted our health and pocketbooks, and constant headlines highlighting racial injustice has put a strain on our mental well-being.
At the grocery store, we are more likely to see the eyes of our neighbors peeking over a mask rather than a warm, friendly smile. Despite an abundance of signs declaring “Black Lives Matter” plastered around Indianapolis, the headlines we’ve seen both locally and nationally have us questioning if the world truly believes that sentiment.
Shar’ron Mason, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, feels the Black community needs to care for their mental health now more than ever.
“Loneliness is impacting people today,” said Mason. “We (Black people) tend to come together to discuss the kinds of issues we are facing. We celebrate together, and we are social people. Now we have this pandemic that’s telling us we need to do something other than what’s second nature for us. It’s extremely difficult.”
Mason wants to encourage Indy’s Black community to connect with each other in safe ways and to seek the support of a mental health professional if needed.
Restaurants, gyms, and other social spaces are reopening in Indianapolis, but that doesn’t stop loneliness from creeping in. A large number of schools and jobs are still operating remotely, therefore we must actively seek connections with peers.
“We need to think outside the box to connect with others,” Mason said. “Go outside, get a walk-in, wave at your neighbor, go to the park, get your lawn chair, do lawn chair visits.”
If you are unable to connect with others in person, video chat is a great way to cultivate the community. Community organizations such as churches, fitness centers, and clubs are offering remote services and classes. Since the start of the pandemic, Mason’s been using video chat to keep up with her clients.
When we need to see each other face to face, there are ways to do so safely.
As with any health crisis that is novel and new, false information and conspiracy theories can spread quickly. We are still learning how to prevent Covid-19, and people are not in agreement about how to respond to the pandemic. Some people doubt if certain precautions are helpful or necessary.
Mason feels that in the Black community, some of this distrust is rooted in history. The U.S. medical field has a long legacy of mistreating and exploiting Black Americans, and health disparities continue to prevail.
“Because of what we’ve experienced as a people through the years there is a lot of distrust about information,” Mason said. “On one hand, some people feel we need to isolate ourselves and we need distance. On the other hand, we have people who are saying ‘no one is going to tell us what to do.’ It can bring about quite a bit of conflict as people are talking to one another because people have different views.”
We can each do our part to keep others safe. Mason says this can be as simple as wearing a mask and keeping your hands washed and sanitized. Those who are in the medical field or at the forefront of the fight for social justice need to check in with themselves often.
“Make sure we are taking care of the basics,” Mason said. “Have I eaten? Do I have enough water? Proper rest? Have I checked in to see how I may be triggered by the things taking place? The things happening now can take us back to things we have seen in the past.”
While self-care and spending time in the community are key components of wellness, sometimes we’ll need the support of a professional.
“I believe (Indy’s Black community) is becoming more comfortable seeking help for mental health. It is becoming destigmatized and more of the norm,” Mason said. “I’ve been seeing all my clients online at this point. For them, it’s helpful because they may not be connecting with other people outside of the home.”
Some local therapists are only seeing patients remotely, but others are still meeting in person. Mason thinks having the option to meet virtually makes therapy more accessible.
“For some, if you have health conditions or transportation issues, this will make it more accessible. It’s taken that barrier away, but you have to make sure they still have that confidentiality,” said Mason. “Some people might have to do their sessions on their phone or in their car. You have to get a little creative. At least you know if you are scheduled for once a week that you are going to have this conversation about your mental health and emotional wellbeing. This will be your time.”
Mason provides a list of Indianapolis’s therapists of color to help the community get connected. (www.lovethatrelationship.com/other-therapy-resources). You may find more information about Mason and her services at lovethatrelationship.com.
Keshia McEntire is a freelance writer residing in Indianapolis, IN. You may find her online at keshiamcentire.wordpress.com or on Twitter @keshiamc12.