Steel Smiling bridges the gap between Black community members and mental health support through education, advocacy and awareness. Their 10-year vision is to expose every Black resident in Allegheny County to a positive mental health experience that improves their Quality of Life by 2030. We are honored to call Steel Smiling our 2020 Healthy Neighborhoods Ally of the Year!
Steel Smiling’s Black Mental Health Workforce Development Program – Beams to Bridges – launched in the Hilltop nearly a year ago, and the results have been outstanding. At the outset, its goals included destigmatizing mental health, connecting members of the Black community with culturally and racially competent therapists, increasing advocacy and awareness for mental health, and training a group of new resident leaders, known as Community Mental Health Advocates, who would be willing to share new or strengthened knowledge gleaned from the year-long course with their own networks. Since 2019, Steel Smiling has provided over $75,000 in workforce stipends, over 700 hours of training, and over 100 hours of therapeutic support through the program.
However, perhaps one of the most impactful things about the program is its ability to create connections between cohort members. These relationships have laid the foundation for a true support system within the neighborhood that extends not only to each participant, but to their friends and family, too.
Here’s a Q&A with Hilltop cohort member, Denita Parrish, who shares what her journey through the program has been like.
What does mental health mean to you?
“Mental health to me means taking care of your brain as you would take care of your body, by exercising. I think of exercising my brain by going to therapy, self-care and breathing exercises. Learning about mental illness and disorders was helpful in working toward getting my own mental health in order. I have also learned that my mental health journey is a continuing process that I have to work on daily.”
What is being a part of the Hilltop Beams to Bridges cohort like?
“Being a member of the Beams to Bridges cohort has been an honor and privilege. I have gained a new perspective of people that I have known for years. I have also been introduced to some incredibly accomplished individuals among my cohort peers. We have meshed into a family over this past year and with families comes fights, fun and everything in between. I’m so proud of the work we have done as a collective as well as the individual achievements of our members.”
“Mental health to me means taking care of your brain as you would take care of your body, by exercising. I think of exercising my brain by going to therapy, self-care and breathing exercises.”
What is one of the most valuable things you have learned throughout this journey?
“One of the most valuable things I’ve learned thus far is that this journey is never over. We are in a continuing process to keep your mental health in check. The techniques and exercises I have learned through the cohort are helping me in my journey.”
What does being a Community Mental Health Advocate mean to you?
“Being a mental health community champion means erasing the stigma of mental health in the black community. I promote mental health support and therapy as resources to my community so that they recognize it as normal and not something that should be shunned or kept a secret. I believe the more open and honest I can be with my community about my personal mental health journey it will help make these conversations a commonplace.”
“We have meshed into a family over this past year and with families comes fights, fun and everything in between. I’m so proud of the work we have done as a collective as well as the individual achievements of our members.”
How did Beams to Bridges help you become that mental health leader in your community?
“BTB helped train and give me the reassurance of being a mental health advocate. I have received Mental Health First Aid certifications for adults and children as well and Trauma Crisis Training. These skills have been vital in being a mental health leader in my community.”
How have you or will you implement the things you’ve learned in your personal life and in your relationships with the community?
“I have implemented the ALGEE action plan in my mental health outreach. I reach out to various family, friends and cohort members on a weekly basis to do wellness checks.
ALGEE Action plan:
- A- Assess risk for suicide and/or self harm (Do not attempt to diagnose)
- L- Listen non judgmentally. Use active listening techniques.
- G- Give reassurance and information. Avoid giving advice.
- E – Encourage professional help
- E- Encourage self help
By following this plan, I feel confident in assisting my peers when they are having a mental health crisis.”
Why do you think it is important to promote care of mental health in your neighborhood?
“We must encourage Black people to take care of their mental health so that they are prepared to deal with the constant stress we are subjected to. Once we recognize the importance of mental health we will be more likely to support the care of mental health.”
Led by Black people and for Black people, Steel Smiling’s Beams to Bridges program seeks to understand each and every cohort member, laying the groundwork for true growth and equipping them to care for their own (and their community’s) mental health. What’s more is that cohort members also get to know one another on a deeper level — creating a tightknit group of neighbors, friends, and family who all support each other’s mental health and well-being.