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'Color Me Healthy' aims to bolster mental health in minority communities

Mental illness cuts across race, educational success and financial status, though communities where violence and poverty are pronounced often face more significant challenges. Discussion about mental health also can be more muted in communities of color, said Karl Shallowhorn, education program coordinator with the Community Health Center of Buffalo.

Those dynamics help explainColor Me Healthy," a series on mental wellbeing that continues Wednesday with a talk on homicide and grief; it takes place at Catholic Health Headquarters, 140 Genesee St.

The series also includes talks on March 20 about youth mental health; April 17 on families and caregivers; and May 15 regarding the needs of first responders.

Each event is free, runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and includes a light meal. The talks alternate between Catholic Health and the health center headquarters, at 34 Benwood Ave.

Registration is recommended. Call 986-9199, Ext. 4350, or email kshallowhorn@chcb.net.

Shallowhorn launched the series with the Near East and West Side Task Force and several other health-related and civic organizations. A panel of experts will lead each discussion.

“The communities affected are really grappling with these issues,” Shallowhorn said. “They are trying to find answers. Our idea is to talk about them, and the ways we can help.”

Q: What makes some of these challenges unique?

Social determinants of health are a main driver of physical and mental health, things like access to food, housing, work, transportation. A lot of the mental health issues are along the lines of depression and anxiety. They may not be as severe as things like bipolar disorder of schizophrenia, but they still are impactful. It affects the ability to do some things regularly, even work.

Q: Who should attend the sessions?

They’re for those impacted, but everyone needs to have a better understanding and education on these topics, because they affect all of us. Even though we're focusing the series on people of color, these topics are universal. …With education comes understanding. With understanding comes compassion, empathy. Be kind to everyone you know, because you don't know what they're going through.

Q: What would you like everyone to know about mental health, trauma and poverty?

That for many people, this is the world they live in. Even though it may not affect you directly, there is an indirect effect. You can talk about the financial toll on our society, the cost of health care. That's why the state of New York went through a Medicaid redesign, to address physical health, mental health, so that people aren't using as many Medicaid dollars.

Q: What can all of us do to help address the damage that trauma can cause to someone’s mental health?

Simply try to see it through the other person's eyes and recognize that you can't always see their challenges on the outside. We really need to be more sensitive to that, so when people come to a place where they realize someone is suffering, they can point them in a direction to get help. We also still need more resources to help people with these issues.

Those concerned about their mental health, or that of a loved one, should talk to their primary care provider or reach out to Mental Health Advocates of WNY, at eriemha.org or 886-1242.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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