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Spotlight Interview

Guest Contributor:

Dr. Akilah Reynolds,

Co-Founder SBW Wellness Collaborative Chanda Reynolds, Ph.D.

Tell us about your educational and/or professional training, and current area of expertise related to mental health and wellness?

My name is Akilah Reynolds. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but consider myself tri-coastal having lived in California, New York, and Texas. I now call Los Angeles home, where I am a licensed psychologist working in an academic medical center. A child psychologist by training, I have clinical experience working with children and their families across multiple settings (e.g., hospitals, schools, juvenile justice, community mental health).

My passion is at the intersection of media, psychology, and culture. I see my role as mental health educator, consultant, and advocate, bringing psychology to everyday people through media, speaking, and community events. My work includes private psychology and consultation practice, research on the impact of strength on Black women's mental health, and organizing community wellness retreats and workshops. I co-founded the SBW Wellness Collaborative with a mission to support Black women in defining strength in a way that facilitates wellness through community workshops and social events.

What does Black Mental Wellness mean to you? What are some upcoming events you are leading, that promote mental health and wellness, that you would like for our Black Mental Wellness audience to know about?

For me, Black mental wellness is about personal and community healing. It is taking care of ourselves - mind, body, and spirit so that we can be stronger as individuals and communities. Community healing requires not only individual attention to mental health but identifying and addressing historical and socio-political forces that impact our mental health. It is important that we understand how our environment and history play a role in our current experiences and identify ways that we can heal individually and collectively. Showing up for ourselves through daily self care and showing up for each other by seeking and giving social support and sharing wellness resources is imperative to Black mental wellness.

I promote wellness through my research on the strong Black woman, identifying the impact that strength has on mental health and encouraging the redefinition of strength to include self-care, self-expression, and social support. I translate this research into practice through SBW (part of the SBW Wellness Collaborative) - an online community for Black women to engage in collective healing and holistic approaches to wellness. SBW held its inaugural wellness retreat - Masks Off: Reclaiming the Strong Black Woman in Los Angeles on 10/5/2019. Masks Off is a yearly community workshop that encourages wellness among Black women with plans to expand to other cities including Dallas in 2020. You may visit us on Instagram @sbw.selfcare for wellness tips, to join our campaign to redefine strength #StrengthIs, and participate in future events.

How can we encourage more people to seek mental health treatment? What are your recommendations for ending stigma in the Black community?

I recently read 1 in 5 people have a mental illness, but 5 out of 5 people have mental health. To me, this means mental health is for everyone. Just like our physical health, it is important to attend to our mental and emotional well-being to stay healthy and well. Going to therapy and engaging in daily self-care practices are useful whether you have depression, anxiety, feel stressed from work, experience a break up, or are struggling with a life transition. Mental health sets us up for life success. When we feel good emotionally, we are better supervisors, employees, friends, partners, and parents. We can live healthier lives by being proactive and focusing on prevention and early intervention for mental health. Mental health is health and we should treat it as such.

Sharing our stories can help combat mental health stigma. The more we talk about mental health the better we are able to reduce stigma about it. When you hear someone share their story of depression or anxiety you realize that you’re not alone and may feel more comfortable getting help and sharing your own story, which has positive effects on your life and those around you. We have to talk about mental health and bring it out in the open for our lives to change. This is how we can engage in collective healing - this is what Black mental wellness is all about - taking care of yourself and sharing your story to help others.

What are your top 5 favorite wellness and self-care strategies?

  1. Taking a walk. I LOVE THIS! Whether it’s hiking on a lovely trail or just taking a stroll in the neighborhood, walking has positive effects on our physical and emotional health.

  2. Be STILL. This is tough because we live in a world that is go-go-go, but that’s precisely why we need to slow ourselves down. Taking a moment to just sit and do nothing can be an important part of the day.

  3. Meditation - I love stretching while listening to meditation. It only takes 5-10 minutes but it boosts my energy and mood in the morning, and helps me relax and get ready for bed at night. I feel better on the days I practice this. When I have more time and a few extra bucks I enjoy going to an actual meditation studio. If you only have a few minutes in your day this may be a great way to start and/or end it.

  4. The Beach - One of the amazing things about living in Los Angeles is proximity to the water. Beach days are a lovely time to sit out and enjoy the ocean breeze, the sound of the waves, and the sun hitting the water. It’s even better when I play in the water and ride the waves. This reminds me of one way to manage our emotions - flow with them. If you don’t live near the beach you might choose any outdoor scenery that creates similar feelings - a lake, pond, mountain, even desert. You can find comfort just being outdoors and using your senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) to enjoy the scenery. Think mindfulness: being in the present moment, on purpose, without judgment, using your 5 senses. Try this at the beach or anywhere in nature and see how calm you may feel. It works indoors too!

  5. FUN! I make sure to schedule this into my life, often. Fun with family and friends, going to the movies, dinner, music and dancing, cooking or baking, slumber parties, and exploring new things in the city, are a few regular activities I enjoy. In 2015, the last few months I lived in Texas was #OperationEnjoyHouston. I planned weekly excursions where I went out, tried new things and hung out in the city with friends using social media to document my time. It was the best time of my life there. I try to implement this now to bring some novelty to my life here in LA. Oh, and of course I love traveling whenever I can!

Guest Contributor

Dr. Akilah Reynolds is a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, CA. She is passionate about helping women transform their lives by promoting psychological health and wellness. Her work includes a private psychology practice, research about the impact of the strong black woman on mental health, and psychology consultation. From therapy to research, workshops, consultation, and media, Akilah is committed to supporting people achieve balance, emotional wellness, and live the life of their dreams. You can follow her on Instagram @dr.akilah.

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