February 26, 2024

Mental health benefits focus on the happiness of the Black community

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and mental health professionals in the Bay Area are highlighting the importance of joy in the Black community.


What you need to know

  • Jaree Cottman, a licensed clinical social worker, says she has used cooking as part of her counseling sessions to help her clients find joy
  • According to the non-profit Mental Health America, in the United States, black, indigenous people of color are most vulnerable to racial trauma.
  • More stories Justice for All

The Well for Life recently held a conference called Healing while Black with an emphasis on joy instead of trauma regarding mental health and the Black community.

Jaree Cottman, a licensed clinical social worker, says she has used cooking as part of her counseling sessions to help her clients find joy. One of their specialties is kale salad.

“It’s as hard as you can see, it’s a bit ashy. Put that dressing on, it really moves it up and when you start massaging the callus in it’s really relaxing,” she said. “I love the symbolism, because sometimes we need a little rub. We need oil to move us a little.”

She says food plays a huge role in mental health.

“We have emotions that live in our brains, so being able to manage some of those emotions through what we eat is powerful,” Cottman said. “It’s part of the reason I do this.”

Many of Cottman’s patients are minorities, so it was a natural fit to turn to cooking as a form of therapy.

“It’s not traditional therapy, but what is traditional therapy anyway?” she said. “It’s not ours but the truth is that indigenous people, black people, people from all over the world have used food to heal.”

According to the non-profit Mental Health America, in the United States, black, indigenous people of color are most vulnerable to racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress.

Knowing that, Dawn Hunter, who has worked in public health for many years, said she is happy to research the numbers.

“No. 1 is being able to translate the data in a way that is relatable to people,” she said.

“We need to create a better system that cares about health and wellness, especially for everyone in our community who recognizes that people of color have long suffered from disproportionate access to those services,” Hunter said.

She said she has found ways to ask the right questions and research why focusing on happiness in communities of color is so important.

“Positive stories and stories that raise Black joy are really important to creating a culture of healing, as well as a path forward,” Hunter said. “It opens the door to create more joy and connection.”

Whether the emotion is found in the pages of a book or in the kitchen, Cottman said joy is always on the menu when it comes to finding joy in the Black community.

“For me, joy is a deep inner feeling that comes up that takes over your whole body and consumes you and feels like a warm hug, it feels like good memories, it feels like a connection,” she said.

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