[HER Voice] Ashley Freeman Talks Mental Health, Hosts “Let’s Get Uncomfortable: Mental Health Makeover”

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When you’re having a bad day do you spazz and lose control or have a mental melt down? Do you have a difficulty processing situations under stress? Have you ever needed to take a “mental health day” because you were overwhelmed? The answers to these questions are indicative of whether or not you’re in good mental health. I spoke with the creator of motivational  blog “Don’t Die Afraid” about mental health in the black community and what she’s doing to raise awareness. Check out our chat below.

Keyauna: How did your blog, “Don’t Die Afraid” come to be?

Ashley: I started “Don’t Die Afraid” after I graduated from undergrad with my degree in Broadcast Journalism. I applied for a lot of jobs in television because I had a singular idea of what success was. I realized that I was trying to have too much control of my life, when God is really the one who has the plan. So I placed my future in God’s hands. I did that by applying to jobs in other fields that I was interested in and creating “Don’t Die Afraid” as my outlet so I could do journalism on my own terms instead of depending on a company to hire me. I was teaching myself to find comfort in proceeding down the path of the “unknown” and not allow fear to hold me back from exploring other options so I “Don’t Die Afraid.”

K: Do you think black people take mental health seriously enough?

A: I don’t think black people take mental health seriously enough because we’ve been conditioned not to. Since slavery we have been forced into roles of servitude in which we were dehumanized. Our feelings and emotional well being were never considered. The only thing that mattered was our physical health so we could perform the labor that was forced upon us. Because of this history, our ancestors were taught to keep pushing or pray to God so He can take care of it.

K: What needs to change in our community as it relates to mental health?

A: First, we need to change our mindset which is hard because it is deeply rooted, but it’s not impossible! Therefore, we need leaders in our community who create safer spaces to break down these myths and erase the stigma. That may take form as a sister circle, man cave discussions, panels, or lectures. Next, we need to utilize resources including National Alliance on Mental Illness (they provide culturally competent training specifically for black communities), Open Path Collective http://openpathcollective.org/(a directory of therapist for $30-$50, hashtags (#BlackMentalHealth & #BlackMentalHealthMatters help display the mental health journeys of other people so we don’t feel alone), and local organizations/advocates (they supply outlets to help people along the path to mental wellness). Finally, we need to start sharing our stories. If you’ve embraced a mental illness, received treatment, or have a loved one who is on their mental health journey- sharing your testimony will empower others to get the help they need.

K: What are a few mantras that people can put into place on a daily basis to stay motivated?

A: My favorite mantras are, “Remain resilient”, “My circumstances don’t hinder my future”, “Guard your spirit”, and of course “Don’t Die Afraid.”

K: On October 22nd you will be hosting an event “Let’s Get Uncomfortable: Mental Health Takeover” with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Montgomery County. Tell me about that.

A: This event is going to be powerful! I partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Montgomery County to bring together a dynamic panel of people with mental illnesses, a psychotherapist, and a family member who are going to share their journeys in hopes of inspiring the audience to embrace their own.  We will then have a meditation break and then go into art therapy. Each guest will take home a self-care package to assist them on their mental health journey to living a more abundant life. This event is for both men and women. I have a black male on my panel because I know that men usually don’t discuss these topics so it’s time to change that.

K: What do you hope attendees will take away from the event?

A: We all know the cliché saying, “In order to grow you must get out of your comfort zone,” and I want all the mindsets of the attendees to grow, that’s why the event is titled Let’s Get Uncomfortable. I want them to connect with the panel and realize they aren’t alone, we are all in this journey together.

The second part of the title, Mental Health Makeover is in reference to wanting all the attendees to walk away knowing that our mental health needs to be cared for in a new way. Everyone needs to take care of their mental health, not only people with a diagnosed illness. It’s just like healthy eating, everyone needs to do it, not only people with a disease.

K: Tell people how they can get tickets.

A: Tickets and sponsorship packages can be purchased at www.GetUncomfortable.Eventbrite.com If you aren’t in the DC area to attend the event, but would still love to be an integral part, please sponsor a self-care package. You can get an exclusive discount by using the code, “Chatter”!

K: Tell people how they can find you.

A: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Periscope, it’s “Don’t Die Afraid” everywhere for consistency.