The reason I got involved working with mental health and young people comes from a very personal experience. Like any teenager, growing up, I had a lot of difficulties. I grew up on the Gulf Coast, when to high school in Mobile, AL, and I was very rebellious. I got into some trouble and I didn’t have any access or any knowledge about mental health and what it means really until my senior year of college. And then when I did, I really understood everything. It was almost like a light bulb like went off.
After college I got my Masters of Science in Global and Mental Health, which is like the intersection of psychiatry, public health and policy. Basically we look at mental health populations – how to best meet gaps and serve the needs of the public or whichever community we’re in to provide mental health services and access to those services. I’ve worked in the field in India, in the Czech Republic and also in Thailand. After my international work I came back to the United States and to New Orleans in July 2018 intrigued by the IWES tagline. I saw “Healing Is The Revolution” and that, for me, just struck a chord because it’s something I’ve believed for so long and I love the fact that the whole organization looks at a very comprehensive way to approach health care, and that it’s very community-based. It’s not some outsider coming in and telling you, “You know you need XYZ.” It’s coming internally from the community - it’s talking to community members and asking them, “What would you like, what would you need, what do you think is best for your community, your situation?”
It’s our job as society to provide youth with cushions and care that they have better avenues of healing, better avenues of thriving. Why aren’t we acknowledging the fact that kids have a cognitive brain? They need to learn, yes, but they also need to understand their emotions and their spiritual realm and how to make sense of their place in the world and that’s really crucial to finding out what they want to do. I think it’s as simple as understanding how to identify emotions and how to teach kids how to cope with difficult emotions because whatever your background is, you will have difficulties in life, this is guaranteed. But if are you taught good coping skills and that this too shall pass and a simple philosophical lens, then you can hopefully make better choices.
It’s very important to understand that trauma isn’t something that’s very easy to navigate. Trauma isn’t black and white. If someone has a traumatic experience, it’s going to have a different meaning for them and it’s going to have a different meaning for someone else and it really has to do with our biology, our limbic system gets in shock. One of the ways trauma can show up in the classroom is a lack of concentration. Concentration is a big, often overlooked, issue if youth are not excelling in school. Society tends to blame the student for being stupid or just not being able to pay attention or being lazy, but in reality if they’ve been going through something traumatic they may be physically not able to concentrate and focus.
So, one of the things I’ve done, not only to heal myself, but to help others try to find their best selves is become a yoga teacher. Now, Yoga in the West is a very different implication, but my background is Indian and I grew up with this system of yoga. I didn’t pay too much attention to it until I got older and realized how valuable it is for restarting my limbic system and restarting my brain actually, but yoga, what it really is, it’s kind of losing your sense of self. It’s losing your mind but connecting with your higher self. It’s the supreme union of you and your higher self. When you break it down, it’s really focusing on your breath.
It’s really important to have trauma-informed classrooms to educate kids about their own internal worlds. It’s important to educate them about how to deal with difficult emotions and if we can have trauma-informed approaches to educating children, we recognize they’re not only a mind, they’re not only this body but they’re also an emotional, spiritual being that wants to be the best it can and give the most it can during this life. I think if we design programs that are trauma-informed, we can help kids live up to their potential.