Discussions of mental health can be difficult for many. The fear of judgment and the stigma attached to mental illness often lead people to suffer in silence. 

This has changed in recent years as open conversations around mental health have become increasingly popular, especially on social media where users can anonymously connect with each other. But as is often the case with social media, the distinction between accurate, helpful information and misinformation is difficult to make.

To combat this, Dream House Lounge, a mental and spiritual wellness lounge in the Central Business District, recently collaborated with mental health collectives NOLA Black Mental Health Matters, and Brightside Therapy Collective to host a series of weekly wellness events. 

These events are typically free, with the exception of some yoga classes requiring a fee, and are open to the public. Registration is available through Dream House Lounge’s website. Included in this series are “Wellness Wednesdays” during which panel discussions are held. A recent session discussed misinformation in mental health and misuse of clinical terminology. 

David Wallace, owner of Dream House Lounge, moderated the panel, which featured Dr. Chanelle Batiste with NOLA Black Mental Health Matters, and Dr. Elise Johns and Dr. Allison Wannamecher with Brightside Therapy Collective.

Wallace said there’s a need to create a space that is accessible, culturally sustaining, and culturally evolving to provide appropriate information. 

“I feel strongly, in my soul, that we’re dealing with a mental health crisis,” he said. “I feel that crime is a symptom of poor mental health. If we don’t get a handle on mental health in this city, it will create generations of mental health issues. The future is at stake.”

“Wellness Wednesday” attendees connect after a discussion on mental health at the Dream House Lounge. Credit: Dr. Chanelle Batiste

The discussion hit on commonly misunderstood mental health topics such as narcissism, bipolar disorder and trauma. For example, though narcissist has become a common social media buzzword, the panelists pointed out that narcissistic personality disorder only exists in between .5% and 5% of the population.  

Batiste pointed to the increase of misinformation in circulation.

“Social media opened the floodgates for people to have information that they wouldn’t have if not for Tik Tok, Instagram, or Twitter. It’s great in some instances, but we want to help people understand how to determine what’s accurate, and who it’s coming from, and what that person’s motivation is” she said. 

As a result, Batiste noted the need for making sure mental health resources are accessible as well as access to mental health professionals. Communal spaces where people can be comfortable and meet others who have shared experiences are important too.

She emphasized that mental health assistance “extends beyond just going to therapy.”

There also was discussion around the stigma of addressing mental health in the Black community. Guests shared their personal experiences navigating their mental health and diagnoses, as well as the ways in which they manage their mental health. 

“Stigma is a lot about social perception and belonging. [It] looks different in different communities, based on someone’s own view of how they’ll be perceived,” Wannamecher said. Research has shown that stigma surrounding a mental health diagnosis is one of the major reasons people don’t seek help, along with a lack of resources. 

“People can feel comfortable having a dialogue, whether they’ve been diagnosed or not, they can feel comfortable in this space, breaking barriers and stigma,” said first-time attendee Reiona Meon about the Wellness Wednesday event. Meon’s desire to improve her understanding of her own mental health and how she speaks about it attracted her to the panel discussion.

For Wallace, he hopes such conversations can inspire people to seek alternate ways of taking care of themselves, outside of the commonly recommended methods. He noted that psychotherapy is one of the most common forms of mental health care. However, many people’s understanding of therapy is one-on-one, cognitive behavioral therapy, which might not appeal to a person who struggles to open up. 

“There are many forms of therapy like bibliotherapy, the art of writing, art therapy, going to a museum and getting lost in that space,” said Wallace. “Thinking about alternative healing practices… therapy might not work for you, but acupuncture might. There are many streams that lead to a river, mental health is large and complex.”

If you or a loved one are in a mental health crisis, please call the VIALINK Crisis Hotline at 1-800-749-2673 or visit NAMI-New Orleans for a list of additional resources. If you are in immediate crisis, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988.  

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Karli Winfrey

Karli Winfrey graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations from Loyola University. With a background in the New Orleans hospitality industry, Winfrey has first-hand experience with grassroots...