CSULB: Black Table Talk Promotes Mental Wellness
By Dianne Anderson
High-profile suicides are weighing heavy on the community, among the most recent Ian Alexander Jr., and the presumed suicide of lawyer and former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst.
Kryst, also an entertainment reporter, was just 30 years old.
She had often interviewed other television stars on mental health issues, and had spoken openly about social injustice and being a Black woman in the beauty pageant arena under “constant micro-aggressions” and hate-filled messages after she won the title in 2019.
Local psychologist, Shelly Ann Collins Rawle, said that more mental health resources need to be readily available in the Black community.
This month and continuing, CSULB Black Faculty and Staff Association are hosting Black Table Talk for students each Tuesday at noon to check in on their mental wellness, and talk out their concerns with Dr. Collins, and other licensed Black psychologists.
Whenever someone is in pain, she said it’s hard to be logical, and important to see things in perspective. What happened with Kryst is a tragic example of how the most vulnerable camouflage high functioning depression, she said.
“In the throes of depression, all you’re feeling is the weight. The truth is that sometimes emotions are a liar. They will tell you that it’s one way, even though it’s not,” said Collins, Ph.D., a facilitator of the programming, and president of the campus Black Faculty and Staff Association.
Those overwhelmed with depression cannot see the path forward past their feelings of hopelessness. That’s where she and her colleagues step in to help.
Each week, Collins sees 8-12 clients at CSULB, and another 8-15 clients through her part-time project with www.theblackgirldoctor.com, which works mostly with women of color, and Black men. Much of what she hears is work-related stress from professional people of color feeling pressured by social isolation at work. There is also anxiety and depression from recent life adjustments from relocations or relationships.
Since COVID, couples have lived in tight quarters, but relationships have worked out in two ways. She said those with communication gaps before the pandemic may have chosen to avoid conflict, which led to increased separations. Other relationships grew closer because they bonded over the trauma and supported each other.
Yet for all trauma that she sees, racial trauma is by far the heaviest emotional impact. Over the past few years, she said the barrage of re-triggering events, the police brutality incidents and homicides, and the viewing of George Floyd’s murder is hard to escape.
“The more they publicized [it], the more it triggered all the different experiences of Black people in America,” she said.
An immigrant from Jamaica, she said her experience in America is vastly different, but similar in ways. Watching so many killings of Black men, experiencing discrimination, and seeing the inhumanity play out almost in real-time has a cumulative mental health impact.
“The body language, we became re-traumatized. What’s happening with black people, everything that you’ve tried to avoid or tamp down and not to bring to the forefront just got re-triggered” she said.
Studies show the rate of suicide among African Americans has been on the uptick over the past 20 years.
“The rate of AA male suicides increased by 60% and for AA females increased by 182% from 2001 to 2017. Suicides were the second leading cause of death for AA adolescents. Additionally, in 2017 alone, 68,528 AA males and 94,760 AA females made suicide attempts serious enough that they had to be treated by health professionals,” according to the report, The Changing Characteristics of African-American Adolescent Suicides, 2001-2017.
Some miss the signs leading up to suicide because people can be good at masking their emotions, she said. Even those in their closest circle may not be able to tell. Statistics show that one-third of all people in the U.S. are depressed at one time or another in their lives.
Another statistic is that upwards of 30% of the workforce experience anxiety.
Dr. Collins said they are reaching the Black Long Beach community #blackbeach for all employees and students. Licensed psychologists, including herself, are available to connect with space and time for anything needed, for talking it out, for help and relaxation, or just culture ties.
She emphasized that while there is no way to control how others behave, there are ways to learn emotion-focused coping. Their Black Table Talk review videos, talk about different approaches to activism to help move individuals and the campus forward. It’s about focusing on resilience, training and listening.
“It’s to bring up any kind of problem on your chest,” she said. “It’s a way for our students to recognize that even though we have a very low critical mass on campus, that we do have Black professors, staff and counselors that they can reach out to.”
If you need help, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255
To RSVP or check out other Black student supported programs, see