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Using art to cope: A local woman's journey to healing involves her creative skills and helping others

Stigma often surrounds the issue of mental health when it comes to minority communities. Here's a look at the barriers and the battle for mental health care.

TOLEDO, Ohio — For Jessica McKeller, dealing with the loss of her father was difficult for many reasons.

“Mental health issues are definitely a day-to-day battle for many of us, it’s hard and compounds things when you’re going through the grief process, especially if it was someone very close to you,” she said.

“Between my mental health issues and grief that I was having at the moment, I decided to start volunteering again.”

McKeller uses her creative side to cope and that includes painting.

“I just sit there and create; it gives me something to do. It helps with the anxiety, and at the end you create something that you can be proud of.”

It’s a process she’s sharing with others. She volunteers with a creative expressions group for young adults. They link an art project to a life issue or coping skill. She also leads a separate peer-to-peer discussion group.

McKeller got help but she knows not everyone in our Black and Brown communities feels comfortable enough to do the same.

“I definitely feel that there’s stigma around mental health when it comes to minority groups. A lot of people feel that you should keep your emotions inside, you have to be strong, you shouldn’t talk about these things no matter how difficult the issue is, and people bear these crosses for their entire lives,” she explains.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are several factors affecting access to treatment for members of diverse ethnic/racial groups:

Barriers to Care

  • Lack of insurance or being under-insured
  • Mental illness stigma, which is often greater among minority populations
  • Lack of diversity among mental health care providers
  • Lack of culturally competent providers
  • Language barriers
  • Distrust in the health care system
  • Inadequate support for mental health service in safety-net settings 

“As we’re growing up we’re taught, unfortunately, a lot of times, what goes on in the house stays in the house. We don’t talk about it like we should,” said Sonya Quinn, Community Outreach Coordinator for National Alliance on Mental Illness Greater Toledo. 

“The stigma is really hard for us to get through because we want to go through our pastors and try to pray it away and ... we have to start educating the African-American community and the minority communities about seeking help.”

Quinn believes education is key. During the pandemic, virtual presentations and classes continue. The organization has noticed an increase in calls from people looking for services. Quinn is also working to get churches involved.

There are free support groups as well, Quinn said.

“You do not have to walk this journey alone, we are here to help.”

McKeller said it's also important for people to show loved ones their support. 

"Reaching out is important, it's OK to just talk. You are not alone."

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