Peer Health Advocates Explores Mental Health Within Minority Communities


Courtesy of Gregory Shepherd

Gregory Shepherd, Staff Writer

William Paterson University’s Peer Health Advocates hosted a “Mental Health in the Black Community” event on Tuesday, Feb. 19 in room 211 of the University Common’s student lounge. The program focused on mental health awareness for the Black, Hispanic, and Latino communities. A presentation from professional therapist Shaneze Gayle emphasized misconceptions about mental health in these minority groups.

Gayle’s powerpoint presentation about mental health awareness opened with an 8 minute YouTube video titled “Black Folk Don’t: Go to Therapy.” The video displayed accounts from black individuals of different backgrounds who shared their experiences with therapy. The accounts from the video brought up issues black individuals may face when seeking help with mental health concerns.

Gayle later spoke about the social and cultural issues surrounding mental health during her presentation. These issues include the cultural expectations of black people to withstand symptoms of mental illness without assistance, religion being the only resource for mental recovery, fear of being regarded as “crazy” and the stigma that can come from friends and family. After the video, Gayle discussed the issues with the attendees.

General students and Peer Health Advocates shared their personal accounts and opinions. Some students felt parents are a key factor affecting these minority communities, stating that many parents do not regard therapy as a valid resource for mental health. The discussion analyzed the cultural ideas that have been passed down from older generations about not only therapy, but mental health in general being a serious part of life people may have to take into consideration.

The presentation included statistics about mental health within the black community. Out of the 37 million African-Americans in the United States, 6.8 million had a diagnosable mental illness in the past year (2014). Gayle said she was “shocked the most” that this number was more people than the population of Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia combined. As the statistics segment of the presentation concluded, Gayle defined three terms people tend to correlate with mental health: stigma, prejudice and bias. She used three fictional scenarios that distinguish the nuanced differences between the three terms attached to mental health.

Gayle concluded the event by focusing on different adverse elements an individual can face when searching for a suitable therapist. She mentioned alternate methods of therapy that vary among therapists, demonstrating how there are more options than the popular “couch therapy.” Students then shared their own experiences with therapy, while voicing their preferences on what they look for in therapists.

Professional therapists Daisy Rodriguez and Richard Khan from William Paterson’s Health and Wellness Center added to the discussion from a therapist’s perspective. Rodriguez said that as a client of therapy, she did not connect well with therapists that remained neutral. Because of that, Rodriguez deviated from that style of therapy in her career as a therapist. Khan and Rodriguez made it clear that finding a therapist that is equipped to treat a client that is a minority is important. Individuals that are minorities may face specific challenges that have to be understood and addressed accordingly by a therapist. Gayle offered a list of interview questions a minority client should ask their therapist to see if they are capable of counseling minority students. The Health and Wellness Center’s associate director,  Rodriguez and assistant Khan helped facilitate the event, providing additional information for the attendees.

For more information on mental health, visit the website or call the Peer Heath Advocates at 973-720-2257. PHA will continue to host events on the WPU campus concerning overall student health.