MON - SAT 9 am - 4 pm     Office: 989-988-2083    |    Newsletters

Author Archives: Evelyn McGovern

Meet a Member: Spotlight on Vera Harrison

Congratulations to Vera Harrison, this month’s featured member! Vera works with the Women of Colors Prevention Team to effect change in the community. Evelyn McGovern, WOC President and Cofounder, nominated Vera for this month’s member spotlight because Vera has shown great dedication by volunteering at many different events to represent WOC’s prevention program and teaching the Prime for Life curriculum.

“Vera is helping to bridge a gap in the community, and the partnership and relationship that WOC has built with her have been very positive in that we’re able to reach more people and service more families through her efforts,” says Evelyn. “She is also employed at the CAN Council, where she teaches a parenting class and is very instrumental in helping a lot of parents in the community.”

Vera became interested in getting involved in WOC after watching some of the parents she worked with at the CAN Council seemingly struggling through addiction. She decided she wanted to receive her Certified Prevention Specialist certification through MCBAP, in order to be educated on substance abuse prevention to better serve these parents. “I reached out to Evelyn to see if WOC would be willing to take me under their wing,” Vera recalls. “WOC was known for their work with substance abuse prevention.”

Vera is now a Prevention Specialist with Women of Colors. “I am trained in Prime for Life, an alcohol and substance abuse education program,” she explains. “We offer the training to the community and schools. I also train Racial Justice and Wellness.” Vera hopes to eventually be trained in other programs that will benefit community members and educate them on making low-risk choices when it comes to alcohol and drugs.

Vera strongly believes that education is the key to prevention: “We work with middle and high school students, businesses, faith-based organizations, and individuals in the juvenile justice system. We are always looking for places to teach our programs.”

Although it was not easy switching from doing education on preventing child abuse to substance abuse prevention, Vera learned a great deal about herself as a leader from this experience. “I really enjoy working with the WOC Prevention Team,” she says. “They supported me as I learned, offering extra help and going above and beyond to make sure I was successful.” Vera also learned that when she sees an issue or concern, she will do whatever she can to help her community overcome it.

Vera hopes that her impact on the community and on anyone receiving training from WOC will include them making choices that will help them protect the things that they value most: “Sometimes we make unhealthy choices that cause us to lose things that we value like family, friends, and employment. I want the trainings that we offer through WOC to be an eye-opener for people. I want them to leave our trainings thinking about the choices they are making and questioning whether they are healthy and have their best interest at heart. I want to be part of the change.”

Your Voice Your Choice 2022

Women of Colors is excited to announce our 2022 Your Voice Your Choice Youth Explosion, a free event for middle and high school students ages 12+. The event will take place on Saturday, January 29 from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Learn to Earn Academy in Saginaw.

“The purpose of Your Voice Your Choice is to give youth hope and inspire them to plan for the future,” says Evelyn McGovern, WOC President and Cofounder. Youth who attend will have the opportunity to connect with peers, learn about teen entrepreneurship, build their financial literacy skills, participate in mental health workshops, and much more!

For more information or to register, call Women of Colors at 989-737-9286 or visit


Read on to learn about De’Niel Phipps, a special guest at this year’s Your Voice Your Choice event:

Born and raised in Saginaw, MI, De’Niel Phipps’ story did not begin on the Red Carpet. Growing up in one of the most dangerous cities in America, in a home that was both Fatherless and Motherless, De’Niel lost many friends to Homicide and Incarceration. He would sit in his room late at night, daydreaming of a better life for himself and his family. Through his faith, the love of family, and mentors in the community, De’Niel changed his life. It is a story of determination and perseverance.

As a 2-time Telly Award Winner, 6-time Emmy Award Winner, 22-time Emmy nominated Director, Cinematographer, and Content Creator, De’Niel has made a mark in the film and television industry for over 20 years. He was first introduced to the business at age 13, helping to produce his Church’s weekly television program. An opportunity that paved the way to his dreams becoming a reality.

Professionally, De’Niel’s film and television production credits include the 51stDove Awards TBN’s worldwide broadcast special “Carry The Change ”, in which he became the first African American Director of the biggest Christian and Gospel Music Award Show. His national commercial productions include McDonalds, Nationwide Insurance, Miami University, and Goodyear Tire. He has helped produce television programming for MTV, ESPN, ABC, NBC Universal, and a host of other television networks. His studio feature films include Lions Gate film “One for The Money,” Paramount Pictures, “Fun Size,” and the Independent film, “Tomorrow Your Gone.” Adding to his list of credits are numerous short films. “Fin Del Ano,” is the most recognized, which was highlighted at the Sundance Film Festival. De’Niel also produces music videos for national recording artists from various genres.

His list of production credits, combined with years of experience led to him becoming an Adjunct Professor at Miami University. Teaching film production to aspiring filmmakers. He has also pioneered his own Film and Entertainment Camp, teaching youth and young adults, in underserved communities around the country, the ins and outs of the film industry.

De’Niel’s passion to tell stories has continued to drive him to new heights. Always looking for a new challenge to create and market visually. De’Niel has recently published his first book that he is eager to share with the world. He believes that through the arts you can reach, teach, entertain, and inspire.

Project Spotlight: Discovering Barriers to Behavioral Health Services

As you may know, Women of Colors recently received a $200,000 discovery grant from Michigan State Endowment to explore racial inequities in access to follow-up healthcare. The grant award, which is part of a one-year pilot program, focuses specifically on behavioral health. Both substance use disorders and mental health disorders fall under the behavioral health umbrella.

Michigan State University reached out to WOC after finding out how much we do in the Great Lakes Bay Region, particularly with regard to community engagement. They thought we might be a good fit and encouraged us to apply for the Racial Disparities in Behavioral Health Follow-Up Care Grant. WOC was awarded the grant on August 12, 2021! “They reached out to us to apply because they thought we qualified for this grant, they saw the work we were doing in the community, and they felt we had the trust and we were engaged,” says Evelyn McGovern, WOC President and Cofounder. “We’re very honored to have received the grant and for them to trust us to fulfill the obligations required.”

Compared to any other race, African Americans receive 20% less follow-up care for behavioral health needs, including substance use and mental health disorders. With the funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, we plan to identify the reason—or more likely, a set of reasons—for these racial disparities.

Right now we are most interested in gathering information and clarifying the problem at hand. If an agency tries to solve a problem before knowing exactly what factors contribute to the problem, then their efforts won’t be nearly as effective as they would be if they began by speaking to people who are impacted by the problem.

Evelyn shares her excitement that WOC was awarded a data discovery grant rather than a traditional research grant: “With a discovery grant, we’re discovering as we go what the outcome is going to be. We have more room to explore and determine what’s best for our community to find answers.”

WOC plans to tackle this challenge in three ways. First, we plan to set up one-on-one interviews with clients who have not received follow-up care for behavioral health needs. Second, we will host listening sessions where facilitators can hear stories from individuals impacted by healthcare inequity in a group setting. Third, we will distribute e-surveys as well as hard-copy surveys to gather knowledge about whether and how African Americans make use of the behavioral health services available in their communities. “We want to get our discovery data from different sources, triangulating the discovery,” says Evelyn. “I am interested to see the differences in the response we receive from a one-on-one interview versus a listening session versus a written survey.”

If you are not familiar with the term listening session, think of a loosely structured focus group. “In a listening session, facilitators ask some initial questions to spark a dialogue, then listen to how participants feel about their health and how their health is being managed,” Evelyn explains. “And if their health is not being managed, we want to learn why not.”

Evelyn stresses the importance of empathy and good listening skills when working side-by-side with community members on a project of this size and urgency: “We need to better understand what has caused these disparities in people’s lives. We have some ideas about the types of problems our community members are facing—for example, transportation issues and lack of insurance. But there could be other barriers we don’t know about yet.”

WOC has already identified some questions we will pose to the community in order to begin addressing these disparities. We plan to reach out to staff, and most importantly, clients at a variety of agencies and organizations. “If a participant has not followed up with a visit to the Emergency Department or even a regular physician visit, we are interested in the reason they haven’t followed up with their care,” says Evelyn. “For example, a participant might have gone to a substance abuse facility to get help but not completed the program.

“By speaking with this person, we could determine if they left due to lack of insurance, lack of transportation, lack of trust, or a combination of these factors.” Community members may face a variety of barriers, Evelyn adds, including physical barriers, financial barriers, and emotional barriers.

WOC is collaborating with many other agencies in the Great Lakes Bay Region to bring this project to life. Our collaborators and stakeholders include the Saginaw County Health Department, the Saginaw County Mental Health Department, the Saginaw County Prevention Coalition, the Saginaw Community Foundation, the Great Lakes Bay Health Center, the Saginaw County Jail Correctional Facility, Solutions Behavioral Health, Saginaw Citizens for Equity and Justice, PEER 360 Recovery Alliance, T.D. Holden Jail & Prison Ministry, ReEnvision You Counseling and Therapeutic Services, and Michigan State University.

Collaboration is the key because each agency has their own expertise. For instance, the county health department has performed many needs assessment surveys, trying to figure out how they can better serve the community. The community mental health agency in Saginaw County mainly focuses on behavioral health issues. “It’s very important that we find out what data other agencies already have, so we’re not reinventing the wheel,” says Evelyn. “Sometimes we aren’t sure how best to move forward, and these partnerships are a great resource to help us answer a lot of questions.”

An agency like Women of Colors plays an important role in engaging the community. Where other agencies focus many of their resources on serving people when they walk in the door, WOC hopes to reach clients before they walk in the door. Evelyn explains that our collaborators provide great services, and not all community members know where or how to access these services: “Women of Colors is trying to connect the dots.”

Earlier this year, WOC and some of our collaborators gathered to complete a stakeholders’ assessment, where we identified potential barriers African Americans face when accessing behavioral health services. Evelyn is excited about the number of agencies that are open to trying to figure out how to make behavioral healthcare more accessible for African Americans. “We realize there is an issue and there needs to be a change,” she says. “Something has to change in order for the situation to get better and for these barriers and disparities to be eliminated.”

By August 2022, WOC hopes to identify the barriers to equitable healthcare. “We may already know some of the reasons for the barriers,” says Evelyn, “but we don’t want to make any assumptions. This project will either confirm or challenge our ideas.” WOC is excited to report our findings to our funder, partner agencies, and the public: “We don’t just want to file this information away. We want the entire community to know the outcome!”

If you are interested in sharing your experience(s) with accessing behavioral health services, please call the Women of Colors office at 989-399-8775 ext. 5. WOC is offering $50 Visa gift cards for participants that qualify to complete a one-on-one interview or to participate in a listening session. Qualifying individuals will be African Americans who did not receive follow-up care related to mental health or substance use disorders within the last five years. Participants should be willing to discuss their personal experiences with behavioral healthcare services. The aim of this project is to improve behavioral healthcare services for clients in the Saginaw community.

Note. The grant information was received from Michigan Public Health Institute for the Racial/Ethnic and Geographic Disparities in Behavioral Healthcare in Michigan Medicaid Final Report and Recommendations.

Lessons from Our Leaders

From helping those in need to providing a sense of purpose and community for our volunteers, Women of Colors focuses on activities that benefit the Great Lakes Bay Region. What does WOC mean to you? In this feature, we share a little about what it means to us.

“Every time I have an opportunity to interact with our youth, I get a chance to see the world through fresh eyes. Their infectious energy, curiosity, and imagination remind me how exciting the world can be and encourage me to continue to fulfill my own dreams. For me, there’s no greater sense of accomplishment and fulfillment than knowing you are changing the youth’s outlook and direction in life for the better.”

—Michelle McCoy, Leader in Your Voice Your Choice

“Women of Colors is all about mentoring the youth and empowering women. As we looked within the communities, we discovered many families living in poverty and many underprivileged children who were going without even the bare necessities such as warm coats. By the grace of God and supporters, we [helped fulfill] that need.”

—Vicki Hill, Coordinator of Warm a Child for Winter

“I’m Still a Man was essential to my development as a leader. It was important to be able to talk about issues I have experienced and to let others know they are not alone in their quest to become a better person.”

—Chris Packard, Panelist for I’m Still a Man

“I think I’m a much better person than I used to be because of the work and the experience that I’ve acquired with Women of Colors. It has given me a passion and a humbleness that I never thought were in me. I’m just so blessed! People say we bless them, but I’m also receiving the blessing. I’ve proven to myself that I can serve my community well. It took me a long time to accept myself as a leader or president; now I accept my service for what it is. I hope that Women of Colors will become a nationwide organization one day because our mission is beyond Saginaw. This organization should be an organization that’s all over this country to form unity and love among people.”

—Evelyn McGovern, WOC President and Cofounder

“I was one of the fastest to complete [WOC’s science and technology] programs. I love it. They told me that I can do whatever I want to do. Now I am planning bigger and better things for the future. I want to go into computer science or engineering because I love technology. [The Students and Future Technology program] has opened my eyes. Not many girls know about this or do it. It improves your chances for scholarships and getting into colleges and other opportunities.”

—Kelcei Schultz, Mentor for Students and Future Technology

“Many variants have transformed our group through collaboration with other Great Lakes Bay agencies. My perception of how far Women of Colors has come is due to the leadership and volunteers as we have learned to pivot during this pandemic since last year by doing remote sessions. WOC has shown fastidious decision making during the highs and lows that many nonprofit organizations experience.”

—Lula Woodard, Volunteer of 20+ Years

“Given the present state of the world, especially where race relations are concerned, the subject matter [systemic racism] can be very challenging because the topics are emotionally stirring and it’s a lived reality that goes beyond a conversation. I hope that others were inspired to speak up, and to have conversations wherever they may find themselves.”

—Omar Jones, Panelist for Time to Have a Conversation

Warm a Child for Winter 2021

Join Women of Colors for our annual winter coat giveaway! This year’s Warm a Child for Winter will take place as a drive-thru event on Saturday, November 13 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

WOC started the WACFW initiative in 2017. The event was originally a collaboration with a business owner who brought the idea to our organization. We embraced the idea and have been hosting the event every year since! Our coat and winter clothing drive has now been running successfully for five years.

Thanks to the help of many, many donors and volunteers, WOC has given away 3,200 coats in past years! The most rewarding part about putting on this event for us is seeing the smiles on children’s faces as they receive warm clothing and get the opportunity to meet Santa!

Interested in participating in this event? Read on for answers to your frequently asked questions!

What types and sizes of winter clothing will be available?

We will have coats for all children from newborn to age 16 as well as hats, scarves, gloves, other winter clothing, and household items. Clothing is sized between newborn and size 18.

What is the best way for community members to reach WOC about donating winter clothing to Warm a Child for Winter?

Donors may email Evelyn McGovern, WOC’s president and cofounder, at [email protected] or call the office at 989-399-8775 ext. 5 or 989-988-2083.

How do parents sign their children up to receive a coat?

Parents may print a registration form from the Women of Colors Facebook page or by visiting our website at They should bring their children and the registration form to 100 Tuscola St. on November 13.

Happy holidays from Women of Colors!

Coming Soon … Women of Colors Network on TV!

WOC has exciting news! As you may have noticed, this past summer, Women of Colors started streaming community forums on five radio stations as well as our Facebook page. A television syndication company recently contacted us because they saw the content that we were presenting. They believed the stories we shared were very educational and intriguing to where they thought that this would be a great fit for television.

“And so, here we are!” says Evelyn McGovern, WOC’s president and cofounder. “We never imagined that we would have our own network, but why not? Why can’t it be us? We’re providing a great platform for individuals to share, educate, inspire, and empower.”

WOC plans to highlight a variety of content on the TV network, from movies and entertainment to religious content, sports content, and entrepreneurial content. We also hope to feature community spotlights, which might showcase a new business or program in the community or educate viewers about a pressing issue our community is facing.

The Women of Colors Network will launch in phases; our channel is already up and running on Roku and Apple, and staff are in the process of getting Amazon set up. We will tentatively celebrate this milestone with a launch party in February 2022, our anniversary month marking 29 years of WOC’s service in the community.

WOC is excited to explore a new video-based platform based in part on the success of our forums, which promote asset development in the community by empowering both listeners and participants. “The forums empower not only our audience but the storytellers,” says Evelyn. “Many people have never told a story about themselves, especially publicly.” The goal for this initiative is to accelerate the community-building values of transparency, collaboration, and personal development captured in WOC’s forums.

Evelyn expects that viewers will learn a great deal from the videos, which will tackle challenging topics—for example, criminal justice, sexual abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, racial disparities, and substance abuse—from a place of hope and advocacy.

To find WOC’s channel, which is available on Roku, Apple TV, and (soon to come) Amazon, search “Women of Colors Network” on your favorite television platform. To get in touch with WOC about a potential advertising relationship, please contact Vicki ([email protected]) at 989-737-8179 or Evelyn ([email protected]) at 989-737-9286.

Meet a Member: Spotlight on Evelyn McGovern

Evelyn McGovern is celebrating 28 years of service to Women of Colors (WOC). Evelyn, who co-founded the organization in 1993, has served as the acting president for the past 24 years! Today she reflects on some memories and lessons learned as part of our ongoing “Member Spotlight” series.

Evelyn feels she has grown immensely as a leader because she is always striving to be a better person. “I think I’m a much better person than I used to be because of the work and the experience that I’ve acquired with Women of Colors,” she says. “It has given me a passion and a humbleness that I never thought were in me. I’m just so blessed! People say we bless them, but I’m also receiving the blessing.”

To Evelyn, volunteerism makes life worthwhile. She stresses that all people, regardless of their socioeconomic background and other factors, can give back to others because giving is not necessarily monetary: “It could be giving of your service or even just listening to a person. Little things you do could mean a huge amount to someone else.”

Over the years, says Evelyn, WOC has adapted to meet new and evolving community needs. For example, in light of the pandemic, we began live-streaming our forums on six platforms, including five radio stations and WOC’s Facebook page. In doing so, we have vastly increased the reach of our events “How I Overcame,” “I Am Still a Man,” and “Time to Have a Conversation.” We now have individuals who are contacting us, wanting to be a part of our platform to educate, inform, and provide resources in the community. Evelyn feels joyful that WOC is touching more lives each year: “I hope that Women of Colors will become a nationwide organization one day because our mission is beyond Saginaw. This organization should be an organization that’s all over this country to form unity and love among people.”

Like all nonprofit organizations, WOC has shifted its priorities over time. “Today we’re taking the epidemic of substance abuse to heart,” says Evelyn, who delivers evidence-based programs focused on helping participants make lower-risk choices as part of WOC’s Prevention Team. “We’re also reaching out more to individuals who are hurting, who have barriers that need to be addressed in the community—and we’re trying to find out the answers of why we have systemic problems that cause all the disparities of homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse. We try to address every issue that we can, and if we can’t figure it out, we try to find out who does have the answers so that this person or organization can help us help people.”

Evelyn, who started volunteering when she was 15 years old, says that although volunteerism has been in her bones since she was a kid, she never, ever dreamed of being the president or running a nonprofit. “That wasn’t in my vision for the future,” she admits, “but that’s where the Lord has led me, and I’ve accepted the challenge.” Evelyn is proud of herself because she never expected to accomplish all that has been accomplished with WOC: “I’ve proven to myself that I can serve my community well. It took me a long time to accept myself as a leader or president; now I accept my service for what it is—and it is what it is.”

Thank you, Evelyn, for nearly three decades of service to Women of Colors! Your volunteerism is an inspiration in the Great Lakes Bay Region and beyond!

WOC Past, Present, and Future

Since our organization was founded in 1993, Women of Colors (WOC) has maintained a record of outstanding service to the Saginaw community. If you have ever volunteered for WOC, thank you! In this article, we’ll celebrate the impact of WOC’s programs in the Great Lakes Bay Region so that you can see where and how your efforts have made a difference!

Twenty-eight years ago, WOC was a much smaller nonprofit that operated on the same mission and principles driving our members and volunteers today.

President and Co-Founder Evelyn McGovern recalls the range and focus of the original programming offered by WOC. “We wanted to get a diverse group of women with different ideas and backgrounds to come together to make a difference in the community,” she says. “The very first program that stands out to me is the Mothers Against Crime march.”

In the Mothers Against Crime march, WOC went into crime-infested neighborhoods to say “no” to crime and violence. “At the time, there were a lot of homicides and violence going on,” Evelyn explains. “We had the courage to walk down the middle of these streets even when the neighborhood wouldn’t come outside and march with us. We marched for them. During these marches, we also honored the victims that were murdered; for every victim that was murdered that year, we would raise a balloon in honor of that victim. It was very powerful! We held that event for about seven years.”

Among WOC’s most popular programming today, our community forums have increased our visibility and outreach to people in and beyond the Great Lakes Bay Region. These forums educate and empower both our participants and our listeners! WOC also offers a popular training program focused on substance abuse prevention: “We have a couple evidence-based programs that we teach. The program Prime for Life helps individuals, especially our young people, consider how to make better choices as adults, to avoid making high-risk choices that would cause them to be addicted to substances that would ultimately harm them. WOC also teaches life skills in the Botvin LifeSkills program.”

WOC has pivoted in powerful ways to serve the Saginaw community throughout our nearly three decades in existence, given our volunteers’ commitment to meet new or evolving needs in the Great Lakes Bay Region. However, a set of key values has remained consistent throughout WOC’s entire history as an organization: respect, trust, integrity, and diversity.

With new members and communities comes expansion! Evelyn is excited about the variety of marketing strategies WOC has used to reach more people who may be able to give back through or benefit from these programs: “We’ve been through United Way Volunteer Match. We use our website, our social media platforms, word of mouth, flyers. You name it, it seems like we’ve done it to try to reach people! We’ve even had annual meet-and-greets where we invite the community to come out, meet the members, and find out what we do to spark some interest.”

WOC has some exciting ideas for future programs and events in the works. One of our short-term goals is to partner with Families Against Narcotics to offer a support system for people impacted by an immediate family member’s substance abuse. “The partnerships that we’ve developed are just so awesome!” says Evelyn. “We have a lot of great agencies in the Saginaw community that are doing a lot of things. In the past, we haven’t always worked together, but I see more collaboration than ever before.”

As far as WOC’s long-term goals, “we want to grow and expand our organization and the services we provide outside the city limits, beyond the state, and eventually throughout the country,” says Evelyn. “WOC welcomes members of all colors, not just one color, which is a mission for any community.”

Practical Ways to Give Back to Your Community

Each of us can change our community and world in powerful ways. This power lies in the small action steps we can take on a daily basis in our own families and neighborhoods. Keep reading for some practical ideas on where and how you can start making an intentional difference in your community!

  • Join a club or community organization. Boost your productivity and happiness by bonding with like-minded people over a shared passion or cause.
  • Look up volunteer opportunities in your community. Many local nonprofit organizations would love to have you volunteer either for a special event or on an ongoing basis.
  • Support a friend or family member by giving advice or being a good listener. Your time and attention likely mean more to your loved ones than you know.
  • Make the world greener by planting trees or picking up litter. Consider paying a family visit to a local park and leaving it cleaner than you found it.
  • Pay it forward at the fast food drive-thru. What if your random act of kindness started a chain reaction in your community?
  • Help a neighbor. Introduce yourself to your neighbors if you haven’t. Greet them by name. Be neighborly in any way you can.
  • Help a senior citizen. Assist a senior citizen in your community with chores in their home or yard that are difficult for them to do. If they are a long-time resident of your community, ask them to share their memories of what your city was like in the past.
  • Give a gift or personal card to someone (anyone) during the holidays to make that person feel special. Surprise someone with a token of your appreciation.
  • Follow nonprofits on social media and share their content to spread the word. Get their message in front of people who may be able to contribute to or benefit from their initiatives.
  • Focus on how you can benefit others with your career path / talents. How can you serve others through your passion or profession?
  • Smile at, hold the door for, and say good morning to strangers. These small gestures can make a big difference in their day—and yours.
  • Take good care of your physical and mental health so that you can take better care of others. Build a life where you can thrive physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

A Call to Continue the Conversation

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, on May 21, Women of Colors invited four panelists to have a conversation about mental health and suicide prevention. Hosted by Vicki Hill, Time to Have a Conversation featured powerful storytelling and a call to continue the conversation.

Mental health awareness is especially important today given the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr. Georgia Conic, L.L.P., who served on our panel, says that one of the major impacts from the pandemic was the impact on folks who are not normally considered mentally ill: “People who know they have a mental illness usually have a way of dealing with it. They have a therapist; they may take medication. They could adapt to the situation better than people who did not consider themselves mentally ill.”

Dr. Conic observed an increase in people struggling with 1) anger and 2) paranoia in the early months of the pandemic. “Many people were just really angry and did not know how to express that anger or deal with it [in a healthy way],” she says. “People were so afraid that they were going to get the virus and afraid of other people having the virus. Stress does cause an inability to cope sometimes, and I think that inability to cope is enough to get you into somebody’s office to talk about this and work out a plan.”

How do you know if it’s time for you or a loved one to seek professional help? According to Kevin Fischer, the Executive Director for Michigan’s branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, common warning signs include changes in behavior pattern, sudden or excessive fear and worry, excessive sadness, confused thinking, changes in appetite, changes in hygiene, disassociation from or loss of interest in activities that previously brought you joy, and increased risk taking.

Kevin strongly believes that stigma kills: “Stigma is the leading barrier that prevents people from getting the early diagnosis and treatment that leads to the best outcome. If you are not ashamed to have high blood pressure, cancer, or diabetes, then you should be no more ashamed to be living with a mental illness diagnosis than any other. A mental illness is a medical diagnosis; it is not a weakness of character. We have to fundamentally change the way we look at mental illness in this country because it is quite literally killing us.”

Early diagnosis and treatment are key. “For most people, when they receive that, they tend to go on to live very productive, very normal lives,” Kevin says. Just like a physical illness, the earlier a mental illness is diagnosed and treated, the better: “I can be diagnosed with stage-four cancer, or I can be diagnosed at stage one. If I am diagnosed at stage one, my odds of recovery are much improved than if I ignore it until it’s stage four. That’s what we tend to do in this country when we talk about mental illness. We ignore it until it reaches crisis. We ignore it until people become a danger to themselves or others.”

If you want to help destigmatize mental illness, consider sharing your experience(s) with others. Panelist Matisa Berry-Ellison, a survivor of suicide loss, believes in creating awareness about mental health and suicide prevention: “It’s my privilege to share my daughter Renee’s story. Renee was full of life, love, and caring. She enjoyed spending time with her family and friends. She had an awesome smile. There was nothing she could not do. She was very passionate about basketball, volleyball, and track and field.”

Matisa believes that by telling the story of her daughter’s battle with mental illness, she can help other families experiencing a similar situation. “I found myself, about a year after Renee’s passing, asking God why,” says Matisa. “I told God, ‘I did everything that a parent should do. I was there. I supported her. I don’t know why this happened.’ And I got my answer. A certain peace came over me and said, ‘This is not your story. This is her story. I want you to go tell it. I want you to go tell her story to save another child.’”

If you struggle with a mental illness, get organized and educated about what resources are available to you before you need them. Barb Smith, the Executive Director of the Suicide Resource & Response Network, recommends that people who experience suicidal thoughts always have the number for a 24-hour crisis line. “When you have those thoughts, in that moment, just say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to do it right now,’” she says. “Call your crisis lines, your friends, or your support person. Most people do not go back to suicide if we can get you through that crisis and help you find someone to ease your pain.”

If you don’t know what to expect when you contact a crisis line, of course, you may hesitate to make the call. Barb explains how the process works: “Very few times are paramedics or law enforcement called when people call those numbers. That number can often get people to stop and think and come up with another plan. When you call 1-800-273-TALK, you’ll first go to a local crisis line center. You’ll listen to a little bit of music, and when you get connected, an individual will just ask you, ‘Tell me why you’re calling today. Let’s talk about what’s going on today.’ They will hear you, get a sense of where your pain is, and give you some local numbers and resources.”

Next steps:

1) Share this article with someone who may need encouragement to take care of their mental health.

2) Listen to the full conversation on the Women of Colors Facebook page.

3) Save these important numbers in your phone.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK or Crisis Text-line: 741741
NAMI: 800-950-6264