Melissa Graves works to dispel the stigma about mental illness among Blacks

Melissa Graves works to dispel the stigma about mental illness among Blacks
Melissa Graves (Photo provided)

Melissa Graves has been deeply involved in taking steps to make changes in mental health. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist with more than 18 years of experience serving children, adolescents, adults and families in communities, schools and private settings in Florida and Georgia.

In 2015, Graves joined CHRIS 180, an Atlanta based organization that focuses on mental health, child welfare, and family services, as the director of training, overseeing the planning, development and implementation of training programs for internal staff and helping professionals in the community.

Rolling out recently spoke with Graves to learn more about her approach to mental illness.

Describe your role.

As director of strategic initiatives at CHRIS 180, I oversee three main initiatives: school-based mental health services in metro Atlanta schools; a community trauma response initiative in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Unit-V and employee engagement and management training for CHRIS 180 staff.

What stigmas affect the Black community regarding mental illness?

One common stigma is not wanting to appear weak and not talking about our personal struggles. Culturally, we are taught to not talk about problems and family issues, but this is hurting us. When we are not honest about things that happened, there is no path to healing.

In your opinion, what are some steps we can take to change that stigma?

We are headed in the right direction with more people, including celebrities, thought leaders and influencers, talking openly about mental illness. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and the more we get that message out there, the more people can get the help they need.

Is mental illness on the rise?

I don’t know if mental illness is on the rise, but I think we are more aware of mental illness and able to recognize it easier. Statistics say that one in five people live with a mental illness at any point in time.

What are some things you have done to increase a healthy approach to life?

I am intentional about exercising at least three days a week. I find I’m more likely to exercise if I’m doing something I like instead of doing it because I have to. I also juice a few times a week and find recipes of fruits and vegetables I like that nourish my body.

What are two things you do to keep mentally balanced and remain energized?

I remind myself that I am resilient and can overcome any challenge. I also check my attitude because my attitude about a situation can decrease my stress and is 100 percent within my control.

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