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Mental health conference to focus on power of holistic healing

Becky Davis used to help patients leave the Buffalo Psychiatric Center and regain their footing in the region. She fondly remembers helping one longtime resident – with a pair of master's degrees – plug into social services, find a new place to live and buy furniture. But what struck Davis the most was how that former patient locked on to a whole foods diet, joined a gym and started swimming every day. Soon, it was on to a job that has lasted a decade.

"If you're ready to take some responsibility for your illness and your life, you're going to find your way out," Davis said.

Davis, of Amherst, a singer with the moniker "Jazz Bird," left her job eight years ago with Housing Options Made Easy. She volunteers four days a week at the psychiatric center and is president of Healthy Alternatives through Healing Arts (HAHA). The organization advocates an integrative approach to mental health treatment and will host its 18th annual holistic health conference from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, April 27 in the center's Butler Building, 400 Elmwood Ave.; the Center for Self Discovery and psychiatric center are cosponsors.

Keynote speaker is cancer survivor Carolyn Zimmermann, owner of Drum4Health. Registration remains open, and is required by visiting; call Davis at 903-6083 with questions. Peers pay $15 and others $24; the cost includes breakfast and lunch, and the chance to attend several of 22 holistic workshops.

"It's a really powerful day," said Davis, who eats a mostly raw vegan diet and, at age 66, takes no medication.

Q: Who founded HAHA?

"Sometimes, when people can't express exactly how they're feeling about something, it comes out through their music, their song, the instrument that they play," says Becky Davis, president of Healthy Alternatives through Healing Arts.

A: It was established 18 years ago by a psychiatric nurse who was once a patient in the old Buffalo State Hospital because of bipolar disorder. She realized some health providers keep changing your diagnosis and your medications and telling you that you won't have a full life. She let go of that whole paradigm and started using essential oils, herbs, watching her food and journaling. She's in her 70s and takes no medications. She doesn't need to because her self-care is uniquely appropriate to her. It's alternative. We're not saying in HAHA don't take your meds anymore. We're saying try these other things, too. Put them in your tool box and see how your wellness goes up.

Q: What workshops are you most excited about?

A: I have been to the color workshop before with Charlene Kane and it's really amazing. I'm excited about that one. Also the mindfulness workshop. Mindfulness is key to good mental health for everybody. The yoga laughter workshop. Life is about laughter. If you don't laugh, how do you make it through? I also like the essential oils workshop and meditative self-healing. I'm a real believer that you change the thought and you change the reality.

Also, of course, the drumming. Sometimes, when people can't express exactly how they're feeling about something, it comes out through their music, their song, the instrument that they play. If you're not an instrumentalist, come and take a drumming workshop. It's cathartic.

Q: What holistic approaches have you seen work best, generally, for those with mental health challenges?

A: Number one: breathing. We're having a workshop on deep breathing, getting in touch with your body. A lot of people who have a mental illness are sort of disassociated from the whole body. Deep breathing is key to get you back into yourself.

The second thing is probably your nutrition. Artificial colors and artificial flavors have a detrimental effect on the brain. Even if you're not a 100-percent plant eater, eat whole foods. Avoid processed foods and additives. They wreak havoc in the body and in the brain. We're raised to not really value the body. A lot of people I know with mental illness have picked up other things, addictions, to deal with their symptoms, even if it's shopping or gambling, or eating M&Ms. They're not as bad as drinking or doing drugs, and certainly those can be involved, as well.

If you have an addictive thing going on in your personality, find something addictive that's good for you, like staying well.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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