GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Mental health can be difficult for anyone to discuss, and even more so in certain communities.
Since 2008, July has been recognized as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Kent County Commissioner Monica Sparks is working to shine a light on the issue by sharing her story, and starting a non-profit called "Community of Hearts".
"Minorities are really stressing, they were stressing before, and now there's an extra level of stress when we look at COVID, when we look at the police brutality, when we look at the things that are going on in our nation," Sparks told FOX 17 News. "You can't tell me that some of these traumatic events are not affecting us with anxiety, depression... And we need to release this burden, we need to know how to release the burden, how to release the pressure and the pain".
Between a stigma about mental health, and a lack of access to treatment, Sparks said many minorities may find it challenging to get the help they need.
Community of Hearts aims to help by providing resources and educational information, helping people to build mental, emotional and social wellness.
"I know that it's going to take one heart at a time, one person at a time, because those stigmas are so strong," she said. "And if we can get people the help that they need, and give them the information and the resources, then I think things will look a lot better for us here."
Sparks knows firsthand.
"There was a point in my life personally where I felt like I could not get anything done and I kept hitting these brick walls," she explained. "As a professional you don't want to talk about it with anyone because then people feel like there's something wrong with you...one day my mom said to me, you need to get help."
Sparks sought out a therapist and was eventually diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She is embracing the condition, and even calling it her "superpower" as she works to empower others to get help.
"I don't use it as something that's detracting, where as before I would, and I learned how to use it," she said. "If people see me and they're like, well she has that and she can talk about it, then maybe I can talk about what's wrong, what's going on with me and I can get help that I need as well".
Sparks has a number of events lined up in honor of Minority Mental Health Awareness month, including:
*Taco Tuesday for Mental Health (First 50 people get one free taco)
July 14th, Tamales El Kora (Division) 6-7pm
July 21th, El Granjero Mexican Grill, 5-6pm
July 28th, El Globo Restaurant, 5-6pm
*Mental Health Professionals of Color Networking Lunch, July 25th from noon-1:30pm at the Candied Yam (2305 44th Street SE, Grand Rapids)
*Stress less Student Skate, July 27th, noon-3pm at the GR Event and Skate Center (formerly Kentwood Fun Spot), 14 52nd Street SE, Kentwood)
To learn more about becoming a mental health advocate, or information about Community of Hearts, head to communityofhearts.org.