Mental Health Matters

By Jamerika Haynes-Lewis

At the age of five, I wanted to have an idyllic sense of the world – a place where I could feel safe and freely explore.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. My home life was chaotic. Sometimes we didn’t have enough food to eat or I didn’t know where my mom was. My oldest sibling kept things together as best as they could. But you can only do so much when you’re eight and have three siblings to look after.

It wasn’t long before we had CPS at our doorstep. After several reports, my siblings and I were taken in to foster care. I was frightened but soon relieved as I got to know my foster parents. They were kind and attentive. They fed us, gave us new clothes and treated us like their own.

Over the next few years, I learned what it felt like to be a part of a family. We went to church, on vacation and would eat dinner together. Though I did want to go back home to my mom and siblings, I really enjoyed living with my foster family. I always felt no matter what my foster parents had my back.

During this time, I was enrolled in speech and play therapy. I had never experienced anything like it before. But I do remember it being fun. One time I got to play with homemade Play-Doh. My therapist had dyed it with Kool-Aid which made it smell good and vibrant in color. I struggled with my speech, but my therapist was accepting and encouraging towards me. This motivated me to want to express myself and connect with others.

As I became older, I lived in different foster homes. My school counselors were people I felt I could talk to about my situation. I felt they didn’t judge me, especially as my feelings became more complex while I was in foster care. I found when I tried to talk to others in my life, they wouldn’t listen or would minimize my feelings. Even when social workers would advise my foster parents to enroll me in counseling, they said no. For whatever reason, they shunned mental health services. I can only speculate they associated it with shame and feeling not in control.

Not having the specialized mental health care I needed in care as a teen caused me to suffer. I experienced anxiety and depression from not being able to process the traumatic events in my life. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s I located a therapist who could help me. They let me know I wasn’t alone and didn’t judge me. This allowed me to trust them. Also, I was provided invaluable guidance on life skills. As I gained more confidence in learning and applying these skills, my anxiety lessened.

I am a firm advocate for youth and their families to have accessible mental health care. It gives them a chance to not only process trauma but to figure out who they are and what they need to thrive. Apart from services, families need community. A place where they feel included, valued, and advocated for. I believe this is what allows families to heal and move on with their lives.

Some national mental health resources compiled by Treehouse:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Mental Health America
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institute of Mental Health
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Teen Link

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About the Author

Jamerika Haynes-Lewis is a journalist and advocate for foster care children. She studied Communication at the Edward. R. Murrow College of Communication. She is the reigning titleholder USA Ambassador Ms. 2021. Her platform is “A Chance to Succeed: Empowering Youth in Foster Care.” She owns and operates Clever Jam Communications, a consulting firm offering strategic communications guidance, motivational speaking and facilitation.

Photo Credit: Holte Avery

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