“My soul is grieving. Our collective soul is grieving,” Dr. Cheryl Tawede Grills said as she opened her training session for psychologists establishing therapy groups in a post-Ferguson world.
The groups are called Emotional Emancipation Circles, or EEC’s, and they’re conducted in a specific way: create a safe space for people to talk about the racism they experience. Validate that experience. And give participants emotional tools to go forward.
“We correct the misinformation, we need to reclaim our African heritage, and we never apologize,” Grills said.
About 30 St. Louis-area psychologists, clergy and community members attended the two-day workshop at Harris Stowe University, including child therapist Anita Blackwell of St. Louis. She said the events in Ferguson ripped open wounds that have long been felt by the black community. She hopes establishing an EEC will teach her clients to heal, and to feel safe again.
“What do you do when you don’t have the structural support system saying and validating the truth of what just happened?" Blackwell asked. “Ground zero is Ferguson, but it reverberated throughout the nation. People don’t know what to with no indictment.”
Marva Robinson is president of the St. Louis Association of Black Psychologists. She said she organized the training because she’s seen a large spike in mental health concerns in the St. Louis region over the past months. When she volunteered as a counselor in Ferguson, she said many residents reported symptoms of PTSD, including one child who lived in the Canfield apartments.
“He heard tear gas canisters being shot off in his neighborhood, and this young child believed ‘The police were coming to get me, that they were going to hurt me and my grandparents,'” Robinson said.
Robinson says mental health is often a forgotten element when communities go through trauma—but can have a profound effect on overall well-being. Often, the symptoms of stress, acute mental trauma and depression are difficult to understand and identify.
“I’m seeing it affect marriages. Husbands and wives no longer being able to communicate.” Robinson said. “I’m seeing children having failing grades in school. Not paying attention, not really caring. We are now really seeing the rippling effects of PTSD.”
With pain in her voice, Robinson said that addressing mental health in St. Louis right now is critical.
“If we don’t treat and address this now, we really will have damaged families forever.”