Brooklyn sorority holds major conference on mental health awareness

Mental Healh and Wellness Program Presenter, Alana Akong.
Mental Healh and Wellness Program Presenter, Alana Akong.
Photo by Psi Lambda Omega Chapter member, Lisa S. Ottley

The Brooklyn-based Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Psi Lambda Omega Chapter on May 6 held a major conference on mental health awareness, stating that the Chapter is dedicated to carrying out its purpose: “To provide service to all mankind.”

Held under the theme, “Mental Health & Awareness: Fight the Stigma and Raise Awareness Related to Depression, Anxiety and Trauma,” the program was open to the public.

The Chapter asked the community to join the interactive presentation and discussion about depression, anxiety and trauma.

The president of the chapter, Dr. Thomasena Ellison Clarke, welcomed the attendees and gave a brief history of the sorority’s purpose.

The event provided education and resources to strengthen mental health awareness in a welcoming environment.  Participants learned how to recognize common symptoms and coping strategies to improve their well-being.

The program was broken down into segments, which began with Dr. June Tyson speaking about the history of Mental Illness and how it was dealt with, especially as it relates to communities of color. Dr. Tyson co-chaired the program along with Yvette Randall.

Mental Health and Wellness Program Presenter, June Tyson.
Mental Health and Wellness Program Presenter, June Tyson.Photo by Psi Lambda Omega Chapter member, Lisa S. Ottley

Dr. Tyson — a license clinical social worker (LCSW-R) and member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers, (ACSW), who practices psychotherapy at Community Counselling and Mediation (CCM) in Brooklyn — spoke about perceptions of mental illness during slavery and the terms “drapetomania,” which was defined as a disease that caused enslaved Blacks to fee their plantations, and dysaethesia, a disease that purportedly caused a state of dullness and lethargy, which would now be considered depression.

Dr. Tyson is also a part of a Global Health Group in which she travels yearly, sharing social work techniques with doctors and nurses of various hospitals and universities in Nigeria and Haiti.

She believes that social workers should “stretch themselves by volunteering to do overseas work, learning another language and other creative activities that bring them out of their communities and their comfort zones.”

“This way the world can experience their talent, skill and love for mankind,” Dr. Tyson said.

Michelle Woodrow — a member of the committee who assisted with the technology, “green format”, and planning of the Mental Health program — began the program with the introduction of the panelists, who are all members of Psi Lambda Omega Chapter.

Menatl Health and Wellness Program presenter Judy Foster.
Menatl Health and Wellness Program presenter Judy Foster. Photo by Psi Lambda Omega Chapter member, Lisa S. Ottley

Judy Foster — a licensed clinical social worker in New York, New Jersey and West Virginia, and is currently working as a psychotherapist at Carelon Behavioral Care — discussed anxiety disorder, feelings and societal pressures, such as marriage, picking a career and having children.

Speaking on “Anxiety and How We are Not our Thoughts”, Foster – who has over 10 years of experience working with people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses and substance use disorders – pointed to statistics that show that women experience anxiety at a higher rate than men.

She said there are 275 million people around the world who suffer anxiety disorder, which is about 4 percent of the population.

Foster’s other specialty areas include crisis intervention, hospice/end-of-life care, depression/anxiety and domestic violence.

She also spoke exposure therapy and a step-by-step plan in working with people who experience phobias.

In response to a question from the audience, Foster said: “Therapy for someone in the mental health field is important, because it helps us to become a better mental health professional.”

Dr. LaSeanda Nicholson – director of clinical services for a Behavioral Health Treatment Center serving parents with addiction and mental health needs, and a licensed psychotherapist in private practice – spoke about fighting the stigma of depression.

In laying the groundwork, Dr. Nicholson said: “It is okay for us to experience periods of sadness in our lives.”

She said that, “throughout the course of our lives, we will experience periods of sadness, but depression is different from the short-lived emotional responses to everyday life.”

Dr. Nicholson – who served as director of Manahan Court Operations and Pretrial Services at the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), a non-profit organization at the intersection of criminal justice reform and behavioral health services – addressed the challenge posed by Dr. Ellison Clarke, who addressed the spiritual aspect of mental health.

She spoke about incorporating the bio-pyscho social spiritual model for patients who have anchors of faith and religious support.

The panel agreed that people should understand that “you can have God and a therapist, and that social workers are working with religious institutional leaders to address issues that people of faith are experiencing.”

Mental Health and Wellness Program Presenter, LaSeanda Nicholson.
Mental Health and Wellness Program Presenter, LaSeanda Nicholson. Photo by Psi Lambda Omega Chapter member, Lisa S. Ottley

Dr. Nicholson served as a key social policy and justice reform stakeholder for the implementation of historic New York State legislation on Monetary Bail Reform, funded through the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, as one of the behavioral health program design contributors.

Dr. Nicholson’s research interests include justice reform, equity in behavioral healthcare, the impact of racial microaggressions in the workplace and race-based trauma on African American mental health, and the intersectionality of gender, race and psychosocial outcomes.

Alana Akong, a Trinidadian-American psychotherapist, spoke about defining trauma, understanding the impact and the stress from trauma, steps to healing and “taking back our piece of mind.”

“We learned that trauma is defined as the imprints that events leave on the mind and in your sensations,” said Akong, who works with individuals and couples to gain a deeper understanding of themselves, and help them strengthen their relationships and navigate life’s transitions with confidence and peace of mind. “It consists of ways our body processes the event that shapes our quality of life.”

Akong, who is trained in Maternal Mental Health and Advanced Perinatal Mental Health Psychotherapy, addressed the response and “how our bodies respond to trauma, which is a way to save us and keep us protected.

“The responses become negative coping mechanisms when it no longer serves us and starts to feel like it’s out of our control,” she said, stating that trauma does not discriminate based on age, gender or socio-economic status.

“Healing is a collective effort that happens in a community with others,” Akong added. “It was an honor to connect with our neighbors. We hope they felt seen, heard, and encouraged to embrace themselves with compassion and understanding.”

After each speaker’s presentation, the attendees were given an opportunity to ask questions, via the moderator Gina McKinney-Thompson, a member of the Chapter and a licensed clinical social worker.

The questions ranged from “how to help a friend who recently loss a child to suicide,” to coping with abuse and getting family or friends to attend therapy, as well as moving those with the phobia of going outside to being outside.

“Our desire was to present mental health information with compassion, kindness and hope,” said Dr. Tyson. “I think we did that today with grace and excellence.”