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Supporting community wellness through counseling

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Step Forward is proud to offer comprehensive counseling services that support individuals and families in Cuyahoga County.

Mental Health Awareness Month aims to increase public awareness of the benefits of counseling and reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues. It’s a time to highlight the importance of mental health care and the impact it can have on individuals, families, and communities.

“Mental health is a critical component of our overall wellbeing, yet it is often overlooked or stigmatized,” Dominique Toney, Step Forward’s Neighborhood Opportunity Center Coordinator, said.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year. In Ohio, the statistics are even more alarming, with mental health conditions affecting one in four adults.

Within the Black community, mental health disparities are particularly pronounced. According to the Health Policy Institute in Ohio, Black Ohioans are more likely to experience serious psychological distress compared to their white counterparts. Despite this, Black individuals are less likely to receive mental health treatment, often due to stigma, lack of access to culturally competent care, and systemic barriers.

“We believe that everyone deserves access to high-quality mental health care, regardless of their background or circumstances,” Toney said. “That’s why we work tirelessly at Step Forward to ensure that our counseling services are inclusive and effective.”

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The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on mental health worldwide, including in Ohio and within the Black community. The pandemic brought about unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty, leading to a surge in mental health issues. According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the percentage of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder more than tripled during the pandemic, with rates highest among Black individuals.

The pandemic exacerbated existing mental health disparities, highlighting the need for care. Many individuals faced challenges such as social isolation, financial insecurity, and grief, which took a toll on their mental wellbeing. Additionally, the pandemic disrupted mental health services, making it difficult for some individuals to access the care they needed.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of social media have also had a significant impact on the mental health of children. The pandemic disrupted their daily routines, limited social interactions, and increased feelings of isolation and uncertainty, leading to a rise in anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Additionally, the increased use of social media during the pandemic exposed children to cyberbullying, negative body image messages, and unrealistic standards of beauty and success, further contributing to their mental health challenges.

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“It is more important than ever for parents, educators, and mental health professionals to support children’s mental wellbeing, encourage healthy online habits, and provide resources and support to help them navigate these challenges,” Sharon Thompson, Step Forward’s Early Childhood Inclusion Coordinator, said.

Step Forward’s Head Start program is required to provide mental health services to its enrolled children. The program aims to prevent and identify mental health problems and offers additional support, such as mental health consultations and referrals for treatment of children and families when needed.

"At Step Forward, our goal is to educate and advocate wellness promotion for families and children through curriculum, mental Health trainings, community partnership and parenting engagements," Thompson said. "It is critical that caregivers are aware of their role of influence as the child grows and learns from the encounters around them."

Step Forward encourages individuals and families to prioritize their mental health as a lifelong journey.

  1. Practice self-care: Take time for yourself each day and do something you enjoy whether it’s reading, exercising, or meditating.

  2. Stay connected: Maintain relationships with friends and family, even if it’s virtual. Social support is crucial for mental health.

  3. Limit social media: While social media can be a valuable tool for staying connected, it’s important to set boundaries and limit your screen time to protect your mental wellbeing.

  4. Seek professional help: If you’re struggling with your mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out to a counselor or therapist.

  5. Educate yourself: Learn more about mental health and counseling to reduce stigma and increase awareness in your community.

“Remember, you are not alone, and help is available,” Toney insisted. "Together, we can break down barriers to mental health care and create a healthier, more resilient community for all.”

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