‘Your pastor is not a mental health therapist,’ Mental health experts advocate for normalizing professional therapy

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Since 2020, the Black community has been in a consistent battle with a pandemic and systemic racism.

Local therapist, Venus Evans-Winters is a licensed clinical social worker, trauma professional, and professor in Peoria. She said more African Americans in Central Illinois are getting professional help, but explained the Black community is not quick to talk out their problems with strangers.

Evans-Winters said there’s a stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community, and some view going to therapy as being weak.

This is why she is trying to normalize seeing a licensed therapist.

“I would like for Black people to see mental health care as a form of any kind of maintenance in the same way that we go to our dentist twice a year, (or) in the same way we try to teach women about breast awareness,” Evans-Winters said.

Marlon Young, a Peoria native said mental health is a kept secret in black households. He told WMBD he attempted suicide after his mom died in 2017.

“I felt like me as a person was basically useless, and I did everything I could to try and take myself out,” he said.

Instead of seeing a professional, The Project Manager for Planet Venus Institute in Peoria, Luisa Gomez, said it’s a cultural norm for Black people to turn to the church for help.

“Your pastor is not a mental health therapist,” Gomez said. “And that’s the thing about it. The power of prayer or whatever your higher power is– it does work, but it’s supposed to be in conjunction with receiving the proper care from the professionals that you need.”

The lead pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church, Deveraux Hubbard, agreed.

“I think it is something we have to encourage, and something we should celebrate within the community instead of stigmatizing people who say, ‘Hey I have a therapist,'” Hubbard said.

Young said he wants to tell his community, “You are not crazy if you got to get up and go talk to somebody, go do it. Yes, we are strong Black king and queens, I understand that so if that is the case, go talk to a black therapist.”

Evans-Winters said it’s normal for people to experience anxiety and depression in their life.

If you need help you can call 1-800 273 8255 to reach the national 24-hour crisis center.

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