AC JosepH Media

MOUNT LAUREL — Our beliefs about mental illness are formed through our experiences, cultural traditions and education. While cultural experiences vary within the Black community, issues including systemic racism, societal pressures and stereotypes continue to shape the mental health narrative.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who live with mental health conditions are pervasive within the U.S. and can be particularly strong within the Black community. As part of their lineup of Black History Month events, Rowan College at Burlington County will host a special “Healing our Communities Town Hall” dedicated to the topic of Mental Health in the Black Community at 6 p.m., on Feb. 24, via Facebook Live.

RCBC Board of Trustees member Dorion Morgan will host and speak with Medical Director of Adolescent Services at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia Dr. Karriem Salaam, Clinical Director/Lead Therapist from Oasis Wellness Group Chanel McCord and RCBC Student Support Counselor Wendy Moluf.

Dr. Salaam, a founding member of Global Health Psychiatry, is deeply involved in issues surrounding mental health in the Black community. He, along with 10 other founding members of the group, used their own resources, time, energy and capital to establish the organization which attempts to bridge the gap between the community and mental health professionals and treatment.

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“We are so passionate about the work that we do; we all have day jobs, but this (Global Health Psychiatry) is really a labor of love,” Dr. Salaam shared. “Our slogan is ‘psychiatry with love.’ We want to serve the underserved, and we want to shine a very bright light on the stigma in African American communities as it applies to mental health disorders and substance use conditions.” Dr. Salaam also emphasized the importance of diversifying the workforce to combat distrust within the Black community toward the medical profession.

“Representation matters,” Dr. Salaam said. “There is a history that fuels this distrust of the medical profession, and I know for an absolute fact that the Black community is at a point where they want Black professionals. My most fervent hope is that the workforce will reflect the nation’s diversity.” Global Health Psychiatry offers corporate training, events and has published three books (including two beautifully illustrated children’s books dealing with issues surrounding grief, depression and ADHD).

Chanel McCord, who boasts over nine years of experience in the psychology field, hopes to provide a voice and outlet for the many issues spanning psycho-social and spiritual realms. Her practice, in Cherry Hill, focuses primarily on Black families and about 99% of her caseload is female. She coined the phrase “brave space” as a more fitting alternative to the oft-used “safe space,” particularly when working with Black males (who often don’t feel safe anywhere). Her thought is that if patients don’t feel safe, at least they can feel brave enough to do the work.

“Diversity, cultural competence and having providers who resemble the community they serve is so important, because sharing those same ideologies and passions helps patients work through their issues and concerns,” McCord said. “I know because I’m one of those people who harbored that distrust until I started working within the system and being a change within the system.”

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