Q&A | An eye-opening chat with Mental Health Advocate, TaWanna Anderson
Mental health advocate TaWanna Anderson has been doing her part in the mental health field for several years, and in turn, is changing the way we look at mental wellness. The Flint native and mother of two was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2016.
She decided to be transparent about her mental health issues to show people what it’s like to have them and still live a fulfilling life. Since then, TaWanna has created the M;nd Ya Mental Experience, an annual event that provides resources and services for mental wellness. She also published Anxiety is not me!, a pocket-sized book compiled with 60 mental wellness tips.
TaWanna’s personal motto to “do it scared” has been the driving force behind her success while inspiring others to push their fears aside in order to get great things done. She has received several acknowledgements for her work in the mental health field, including the 2019 Builder Award, the Helping Others Heal Award, and the Black Girls Rock Survivor Award.
We had the opportunity to speak with TaWanna about the M;nd Ya Mental Experience, stigmas surrounding mental health in the Black community, her view on anxiety medications and more. Keep reading to get “the goods” on TaWanna Anderson.
The GOODS: Tell me about the M;nd Ya Mental Experience and what inspired you to create it?
TaWanna Anderson: “The M;nd Ya Mental Experience is an annual event that we have for the community where we offer resources to the community to help spread knowledge about mental health and to try and break the stigma in our community. It’s basically a whole mental health experience that started from everything that helped me with my self-care. It includes therapy, massage therapy, exercise, which is yoga.
We actually brought in a yoga instructor as well as therapists. We started a new thing called speech therapy, it was so dope last year. It was almost like speed dating, but you talk with a therapist and get to ask some questions that you're nervous about. It went way better than I thought it would. I was scared people were gonna leave because some people are scared to talk to therapists, but it was like the best thing of that event last year.”
TG: In recent years, people have been making great efforts to change the narrative of addressing mental health issues within the Black community. Why do you think talking about mental health and seeking therapy still carries a stigma within the community?
TA: “I think for us, it’s been the whole “don't tell family business” or the “shut up and pray” aspects. I think all of those things keep us from going to therapy. I also think it's pride. I think a lot of people are prideful and feel like they don't need help; I don't need to tell nobody my business. In therapy, they're helping you unpack those things that you don't even know is trauma.
If you had asked me years ago that I have trauma, I would have said no. However, by addressing different events that happened in my life [in therapy], I learned that I did have trauma and that it’s not normal. I was just robbed at gunpoint, and I was grateful that I made it, but I never thought about the effects from that.”
TG: What kind of response did you get from people when you released your book?
TA: “The response was overwhelming. I've gotten great reviews, haven’t really seen any negative ones although I’m open to constructive criticism. People have reached out to me and said that the book really helped them. I'm just thankful that it's helping people. People are really out here dealing with mental health issues and I got something that could possibly give him some relief. That’s the part I'm excited about.”
TG: What was the process like putting the book together?
TA: “It was a lot of back and forth with the publisher, but the process of writing it was just me. I started kind of writing it on Instagram a while ago when I would do little tips. One day, I thought, “Why don't I put these into a book?” I wanted a book that was user-friendly so people wouldn’t have to go to my Instagram and scroll all the way through to see all of the tips. So, I started writing the book.
The editing process was intense. I would submit what I had for the book and the publisher would send it back. It was like that for months. We even had a back and forth [discussion] about me using the word “dope.” We went back and forth on that one, but ultimately, I won.
At first, they thought people were going to think I was referring to crack, but I had to explain that that’s not what it meant. That’s why in the beginning [of the book], I put that I may use that word, and I wrote out its meaning. I understand the book reading world, but I don't want to change myself and how I talk to people about mental health. I think they like that I deliver it the way that I do.”
TG: What is your take on anxiety medications? I know a lot of people, especially in the Black community, are often skeptical of taking them. What is your stance on that?
TA: “I'm for doing whatever you need to do to make sure that you're okay. I mean, not street drugs or anything like that, but I'm not against [prescription] medication. I was actually taking some three times a day when I first got diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I think I felt bad about having to take something to be able to function because addiction runs heavy in my family, and it was becoming a trigger being on the medication.
I slowly took myself off of it [which] I don't recommend for anybody, but I didn't want to be on it. I have some friends that are on antidepressants and I'm like, you gotta do what you gotta do and try new stuff that works for you. My therapist always says if your leg is broken, you go get a crutch and you use that crutch to sustain yourself until you’re better, and that's okay.”
TG: I think that's why a lot of people shy away from medication, because they think it's permanent like they have to take it for the rest of their lives. However, it can be temporary and help you for a certain moment in time.
TA: “Hey, I still have mine. I don't take them two times a day, but they’re in my purse in case the deep breathing stops working, then I'm going to take one. I can be struggling before I take anything, and it's like, “Okay, why are you making yourself suffer?” But it's like you were saying, there's such a stigma with taking medication, you don’t want to get addicted or I don’t want nobody thinking this or that about me.”
TG: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to contribute to their communities and spread the word about mental health wellness? What is the first thing they should do to get started?
TA: “I'm on the board of directors for this wonderful organization, it’s called NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness; shameless plug! (laughs). They're in most of the mental wellness communities, and they have classes called ‘family to family.’ I'm an expert strictly for people that deal with individuals that have a mental condition, and they teach you about all the different disorders and how to deal with your people.
They also have online resources for anything that you're dealing with [that’s] mental health related. So, I would say get educated. If you have a family member, get educated, learn about their disorder so you can learn how to deal with it, and learn how to take care of yourself as well. It can be stressful dealing with someone who has a mental disorder because you never know how they're gonna be that day. I definitely would say the main thing is just get educated, and then once you do that, just start helping.”
TG: Any shoutouts?
TA: “I want to give a shout out to my family! It’s rough dealing with someone that has a mental condition and they deal with me. They check on me, they make sure I'm okay. They deal with me on my horrible days, my great days. They're just always there for me. So I just want to say I'm so thankful for them and my children. It can be lonely, even if you have a house full of people or a phone full of friends. You really don't understand unless you are in it, so it’s great to have a support system that’s there for me no matter what.”
To stay up to date with TaWanna Anderson, follow her on Instagram at: @heytawanna
Also visit her website at: mindyamentalexperience.com
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