Mental Health & Media
Written by Cache Castelow and Kaelyn Timmins
Dr. Akilah Reynolds is a Los Angeles-based psychologist both at an academic psychiatric hospital and at “The Black Girl Doctor,” a private practice offering virtual therapy and corporate wellness. Dr. Reynolds earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Houston, where she conducted research on the intersection of media and psychology, particularly as it relates to black women and girls. Currently, her research is about the psychological implications of the “strong black woman” identity. She co-founded the SBW Wellness Collaborative, a research-based wellness organization that encourages healthy definitions of strength and self-care. During the month of May, which is recognized as Mental Health Awareness month, we got to sit down with Dr. Reynolds to chat about mental health and media.
Mental Health & Entertainment
Being based in Los Angeles, Dr. Reynolds brushes up against the entertainment industry and considers how entertainment can impact our mental health. Dr. Reynolds notes that in TV and Film, emotion often drives storytelling. “The same goes for mental health: emotions are important and they are a driving force on how we live our lives,” Reynolds says. We need to learn to appreciate, honor and process our emotions, rather than avoid them. As for how entertainment can affect people personally, Dr. Reynolds says it depends on the person: “Films can be very moving to a person, inspiring, and [they can] change our lives. Films can also negatively affect how we feel and how our story is being represented.” Dr. Reynolds notes that hearing stories of repeated injustice in the news can have a draining effect on our psyches, especially for Black people who have to deal with the lived reality of police brutality and also watch it stream on the Internet and TV.
Bringing Awareness to Mental Health in Black & Brown Communities
Celebrity initiatives, such as Taraji P. Henson’s The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, are important because they bring visibility to the topic of mental health. These programs give people a chance to see someone they admire and respect talk about mental illness, which is often stigmatized. This in turn gives people permission to open up about their own experiences, Dr. Reynolds says. As a guest on Taraji’s P. Henson’s Facebook series Peace of Mind, Dr. Reynolds was able to witness firsthand Taraji using her platform to have real-life conversations about mental health. “That show represents a really pivotal moment, that a huge celebrity like [Taraji P. Henson] took her time to use her platform to be a champion of mental wellness,” Dr. Reynolds says.
Coping with Mental Illness
When managing mental illness, Dr. Reynolds suggests obtaining professional help, reaching out to family and friends for social support, and engaging in healthy habits (e.g., sleep, physical activity). She also stresses the importance of honesty: “We try to stuff down emotions, [but] I encourage people to sit with their emotions and identify what their emotions are,” Dr. Reynolds says. This paves the way for people to find healthy coping mechanisms and activities that bring pleasure and joy, which can be helpful when dealing with emotional distress. She adds that because there are differences in mental health diagnoses, she encourages people to seek professional support in order to receive personalized care.
In terms of joyful media recommendations, Dr. Reynolds recommends Black Panther (“it brings joy and it's very inspiring for my well being”) and Beyonce’s Black is King (“it is self-soothing and activates my senses--particularly my sense of sight and sense of hearing because of the amazing visuals and music selection”).
Follow Dr. Reynolds on Instagram for more tips on Mental Health @dr.akilah.