June 2, 2022
Baron ‘Von Leek’ felt nervous about telling others about mental illness for years, he said as rain fell from the sky. An hour later, the sun surprised Jocelyn Square Park – and Von Leek found himself rapping about his self-diagnosed schizophrenia in front of an emotional audience of mental health activists and stigma-breakers.
Von Leek’s performance was part of the annual New Haven Mental Health Awareness Day Fair, an event hosted Saturday afternoon by Aryella Edwards.
Edwards hosted the first iteration of the fair last year as part of CARE’s New Haven Health Leader program, and CARE decided to co-sponsor the event again this year. The event attracted a group of community activists, artists, care providers and business owners invested in breaking cultural silences on mental health.
Unfazed by a rainstorm at the start of the event, attendees spent the afternoon sharing stories of anxiety attacks, postpartum depression, police brutality, transitions out of prison and cycles passed down from generation to generation to keep emotional challenges secret.
They also shared personal antidotes for tough days, including body butter, therapy, herbal tea and, most often, conversations through strong emotions.
“Talk about it,” said 9-year-old Sarya Provite as clouds gathered in Jocelyn Square.
Moments later, when a gust of cathartic rain hit, Provite and a handful of other children modeled another form of self-care: dancing.
For Von Leek, singing and rapping about his experiences with schizophrenia is a way to overcome the stigma of the disease. “It helps me know how to talk about it,” he said.
On stage Saturday, he performed an original song called “Stuck In My Mind.”
Phyllis Fischer, also known as PhyllisWithaY, performed emotional renditions of “Lift Every Voice And Sing” and songs about healing. In the meantime, she opened up about her postpartum depression – during which she turned to spirituality and faith as a guide. “I had to pray a lot to stay positive,” she said, adding that the mental health awareness fair was one of the first times she embarked on an activity with her family. since the onset of her postpartum depression.
Dareesha “Sunshine” Hardy arrived Saturday with her line of all-natural homemade cosmetics, “Sunshine’s Paradox.” She put on sale original body creams, lip care and makeup. The “paradox” of her business, she says, is that for her, makeup is less about outward beauty and more about self-esteem and motivation.
At the height of his own depression and anxiety, Hardy said, “Sometimes all I had was my lipstick.” The lip makeup has helped her feel better prepared to face tough days.
A table away, Shanice Little, a self-taught healer and spiritual life coach through her company Little Ol’ Healings, has put together a range of herbs and teas specially designed for mental well-being, with ingredients like ashwagandha root and lemon balm. Little uses herbalism, tarot, crystals, and other spiritual practices as a source of healing and self-regulation in her own life. “I didn’t realize I was depressed until the pandemic hit,” Little said. She also discovered that she suffered from anxiety. “I noticed that my heart was still racing, my thoughts were still looking ahead,” she said. As fair attendees, they exchanged self-care practices, they also discussed the large-scale barriers — from generations of racism to gaps in the mental health system — that make it difficult to maintain mental health.
Isabel Alvarez-Diaz, who studies “community practice” social work and women’s studies at Southern Connecticut State University, hopes to bridge some of the gaps between settlement counseling and community members who don’t always feel connected. comfortable in medical settings. Social work and therapy “often comes from an outside perspective”, she said – specifically highlighting gaps in access to mental health care and representation for black, brown and queer people. In 2015, only 4% of therapists identified as black across the country. In 2020, a Trevor Project survey found that 46% of young gay men sought therapy but were unable to access it.
Angel Ogman-Stanley, the host of the event, recalled her nephew, Shamar Ogman, who Hartford police shot and killed during an episode related to Ogman’s mental health. According to a 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with serious mental disorders, including Mubarak Soulemane, who was killed by a state trooper during a schizophrenic episode, are 16 times more likely to experience police violence. Ogman-Stanley called on police to get more training on handling situations involving people with mental illness.
New Haven Rising and Ice The Beef, community organizer Remidy Shareef, mentioned the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, NY and Uvalde, Texas – the first of which was perpetrated by a white supremacist who intentionally targeted a busy supermarket in large party by black patrons – as well as gun violence right in New Haven. It’s hard to grow up in America without going through trauma, Shareef said. “We have children dying here.”
Each individual story shared on Saturday added up to a resounding message: that anyone struggling with mental health issues is not alone. it operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Local mental health care providers include Clifford Beers, Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, Continuum of Care, and the Yale Child Study Center.