Reia Chapman, founder and director of clinical services at the Center for Family & Maternal Wellness in Charlotte, North Carolina, is committed to helping others. Chapman embodies what she considers to be her calling and a commitment to liberating clients through mental and emotional wellness. As a professional social worker, psychotherapist and public speaker, she strives to break down misconceptions of mental illness. In observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, Chapman spoke with rolling out.
Tell us about the Center for Family & Maternal Wellness?
The Center for Family & Maternal Wellness is an outpatient therapy practice serving the greater Charlotte area. We are completely staffed with women of color and specialize in providing queer- and trans people of color-affirmative psychotherapy, maternal mental health and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.
What stigmas affect the Black community regarding mental illness?
Common stigmas involve culturally held beliefs about mental health, spirituality and gender roles and toxic masculinity, but I am seeing a trend in stigma around money and healthcare coverage. Many people experience feelings of shame for needing help paying for care or medications or are unable to meet requirements for insurance and are choosing to suffer in silence.
In your opinion, what are some steps we can do to change the stigma?
It’s important to keep naming and normalizing our responses to the lives we are living. Oftentimes, when we ask people about their family mental health history, they either don’t know [because no one talked about it], or they literally don’t have the language to describe the observation. The latter could be cultural, e.g., Asian or Hispanic communities, or as a result of the poor [or] limited documentation of the medical histories of Black folks.
Name some symptoms of mental illness.
Symptoms can be specific to a mental health diagnosis like depression or bipolar disorder, and what is considered normal behavior varies among cultures. In general, if there is a significant change in a person’s behavior, mood or affect, that disrupts their normal functioning over time, or they are engaging in unsafe behaviors they may be experiencing a mental health crisis.
Is mental illness on the rise?
I think our awareness of and comfort in discussing mental illness is growing. I am increasingly treating people experiencing racialized trauma, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress reactions related to exposure to community-based and state-sanctioned violence in communities of color and toward QTPOC [Queer and Trans People of Color].
What are two valuable insights you’ve learned from therapy or counseling?
Sometimes a person isn’t mentally ill but exhibiting a normal response to a toxic environment or terrible life circumstance. And decolonizing our health practices is integral to our collective healing, especially when working with marginalized populations. It’s important to recognize the limitations in our formal training and how it can present as a barrier when working with some folks. That is why I created the Decolonizing Therapy workshop to assist clinicians with identifying their own implicit biases when working with diverse groups.