Create Small Goals. One of the things that I like to do is set a small goal in all areas of my life to work on. For example, physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, financial and so forth. I find that often times we tend to focus on one area of our life, thus neglecting others. I feel that when I am able to focus on smaller goals in each area, then I am catering to all areas of wellness rather than just one.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Jovica Grey. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and National Certified Counselor, located in Florida. She has provided counseling services for 5+ years and has worked in inpatient and outpatient settings with individuals who struggle with substance, alcohol and other addictions. She is the owner of Greys Counseling Services, LLC where she provides individual and couples counseling via in person and online. Her specialties include love addiction, codependency, people of color and trauma. A year ago, Jovica resigned from her place of employment to pursue her practice full-time in an effort to bring awareness regarding mental health illness to People of Color. She has made it her mission to focus on educating and normalizing the importance of seeking help to address mental health illness. Additionally, she is also working on a digital magazine for women of color that will provide resources and tips mental health issues.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always known that I wanted to help others, but what I did not know was in what capacity. I remember when I was in my undergraduate program, my passion was to pursue a career in the medical field as I wanted to be a pediatrician; however, I came to realize that this path was not for me. Moreover, I recall taking my first psychology class and instantly knew that this was my purpose and from there completed my Bachelors and then my Masters in Counseling.
I worked in various settings from inpatient to outpatient in the field of addiction. In working in this field, one thing I came to realize that not many people of color sought therapy or even knew that there were resources available to them. There was such a stigma associated with mental health illness with people of color that I wanted to know in what ways could I help to change this narrative, especially being a person of color myself and seeing how much we were impacted either directly or indirectly.
From there, it led me to pursue my own private practice with a focus on people of color to bring awareness and education as well as helping to normalize that it is okay to take care of yourself, to ask for help and receive appropriate resources based on your needs.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
That is a great question! There are so many factors that play into why there is still a huge stigma associated with mental health illness. The first one that comes to mind is “if you can’t see, it then it must not exist”. I think that there is this misconception that mental health is not as serious as any other medical condition because it is not something you can physically observe. People have a hard time understanding that mental health illness is just as progressive as cancer or any other severe medical illness, but because it does not aggressively affect the body in a similar way, it is dismissed.
Another reason is that society often associates mental health illnesses with labels such as “crazy” or “psychotic” in a very taunting and demeaning way. You hear things such as “this person is just crazy” or invalidates what someone is going through because “there are people with real problems”. Also, society has a way of making us feel that we need to be superhuman and tackle everything and anything short of this, is seen as weak and weakness is not a favorable quality to possess. Another reason has to do with the family system as many people were not taught healthy forms of expressions, many may not know that there are resources available to them or were taught from generational patterns to cope with their problems in silence and that mental health illness is not real. There are so many reasons, but I think those are some current examples.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
One of my mission is to bring awareness and provide education through mediums such as Facebook, Instagram, and You-tube by providing statistics on how mental health illness impacts all people as well as normalize that prioritizing and taking care of yourself does not make you weak.
When we can normalize that seeking help is perfectly healthy and a form of self-care, then we can break through the mindset that helps to maintain the negative belief that we need to continue to suffer in silence. Another way that I am trying to bring awareness, is by creating a digital mental health magazine aimed for women of color that provides resources, information, and tips on various topics related to mental health wellness.
I plan on launching the digital magazine within the next year and looking forward to reaching people not just where I am located, but state-wide and hopefully eventually national-wide, in an effort to continue bringing aware to everyone especially with people who live in other countries and do not have access to the resources that we have here in the states.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
I am from a Caribbean background and I did not understand the importance of mental health illness until I pursued my degree in psychology. There was a period in my life where I was experiencing depression and I was uncertain what I was experiencing, as I did not have the appropriate language to identify what that was. It almost felt wrong to feel that way, which intensified the depression. I felt very helpless because when I brought this up with family, it was immediately dismissed as there was no valid reason for me to feel this way. I recognized at that moment, this was a normal reaction to mental health not only in the Caribbean culture but with people of color in general. Therefore, we learn how to sit silently with our pain because it is not okay to talk about it let alone feel it.
I know having experienced it myself, I know many people go through the same things as I have and from working with people of color, they all unanimously say that they were not allowed to talk about or experience their emotions/feelings. Also, many of them even shared that they were unable to communicate to their loved ones that they were even seeking help because it was something viewed as abnormal. Therefore, I wanted to change that narrative in the community by focusing my niche on helping people who have experienced what they have, who can relate to them in ways others may not and helping them to recognize that it is okay to ask for help, our silence is what helps to maintain the problem. Furthermore, I made the initiative to focus on bringing awareness to people of color through my practice focus.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
I believe a way in which we need to change how we view mental health, requires all of us taking steps towards change by supporting and encouraging the benefits of seeking help to address mental health illness. Individuals can encourage their loved ones to reach out for help, be supportive in a sense that they can validate someone else’s feelings and try to understand without judgment or criticism. Often times people do not go to their loved ones for support because of the fear of judgment. Next, society can support by providing education and resources that normalize mental health illness. Using their platform as well as the various mediums to break through the barriers that prevent people from seeking help or talking about mental health. Additionally, the government can create laws and regulation that provide more protection for individuals with mental health illness, provide more funding services especially in regard to research for studying the causes of and treatments for mental health disorders.
What are the 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Create Small Goals. One of the things that I like to do is set a small goal in all areas of my life to work on. For example, physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, financial and so forth. I find that often times we tend to focus on one area of our life, thus neglecting others. I feel that when I am able to focus on smaller goals in each area, then I am catering to all areas of wellness rather than just one.
- Set healthy boundaries. When I began setting boundaries with the people in my life, I began to have more meaningful relationships as well as eliminating the toxic ones from my life. Boundaries are created to protect your own mental health.
- Exercise, when I am able to engage in physical activity, it gives me something to look forward to as well as help to improve my mood and overall health.
- Nutrition, the way that we feel physically, impacts our mental health. I notice when I eat healthier, my energy level is improved, and I feel good overall versus when I do not, I am all about holistic approaches.
- Learning to say “No” although this ties into boundaries, it is not something easy to do, we can’t be everything to everyone and I’ve had to learn this the hard way, especially with being a clinician as we want to help everyone.
- Solitude, sometimes I need time to myself to just decompress, recharge and reset, during this time, I like to meditate, journal or read a new book.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
Two of my favorite books focus on changing your mindset and speaks about how we attract certain things into our lives based on how we perceive ourselves. They include the Four Agreements and the Secret. Additionally, one of the podcasts that I was recently introduced to was Therapy for Black Girl, which talks about different topics regarding mental health illness.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!