Diversity Corner

Greetings to all of the wonderful members of SPP!

Michelle Ernst and I are beyond excited to launch a new mental health affinity group for members who are navigating mental health concerns. Ever since affinity groups started back in 2021, I knew I wanted to be involved in getting a group like this off the ground. In order to most clearly impart my hopes and motivations for this group, I want to share a few times during which my personal journey and professional life collided:

  • As a first year graduate student struggling with depression and anxiety, I often felt alone in navigating my mental illnesses. During my second semester, I overheard two students talking openly about a therapist who worked with several students in our program. I wasn’t ready to open up about my own struggles yet, but just hearing this conversation, and the normalization it provided, was powerful.
  • I began to practice opening up to supervisors and mentors about the struggles I faced. Time and time again, I was met with support. My fear around discussing my mental health concerns became much more manageable with repeated practice.
  • During my final graduate school course, I broke down in tears during my presentation. I had successfully given many presentations before and I was shocked by the way my nervous system responded to this stress. However, the support I received from my professor and peers allowed me to view this as a triumph rather than a failure, and I have gone on to become a very confident public speaker.
  • As I interviewed for internship positions, I spoke often about my passion for reducing stigma around mental illness. I practiced speaking about my own journey in a way that felt comfortable – similar to how I imagine many people with physical health conditions might speak about their journeys. I challenged myself to stop creating such a stark distinction between mental and physical health challenges.
  • When faced with a significant challenge in my personal life during my internship year, I talked with a supervisor who not only provided the warmth and compassion I needed, but was also able to help me come up with a plan to navigate the emotional fallout I might experience. This supervisor helped me prioritize my mental health, which ultimately helped me achieve work-life balance during one of the most difficult seasons of my life.
  • I experienced an exacerbation of depression symptoms midway through my fellowship year. At this point, I was practiced in advocating for myself, but I also thought it was important to share with my supervisor, Maia Noeder, that more is needed to support the mental health challenges of those in our field. From this conversation, the affinity group I’m writing about today was first born.

I firmly believe that creating space for conversations about our personal experiences with mental illness is a necessary step to reducing stigma and supporting ourselves, our colleagues, and, ultimately, the youth and families with whom we work. Our vision for this group is to create this space and start a dialogue that allows SPP members to gain support and develop more confidence in speaking about and managing the mental health challenges they face while working as professionals in the mental health field.

Though our specific agenda and structure are fluid at this time, one thing we are committed to is ensuring the safety of our members. After consultation with APA’s legal team, we were reassured that participating in this mental health affinity group would involve no greater risk than participating in any other affinity or support group. Even still, we are mindful of the reality that we are discussing sensitive topics. For anyone who is interested in taking part and finds themselves feeling concerned about risk, please do not hesitate to reach out to myself or Michelle so that we can find a comfortable way for you to take part.

We are grateful to those who have already expressed interest and to those who participated in our first meetings. This summer, our meetings will be held via Zoom at 7:30pm EST on the third Thursday of each month. If you are interested in joining, send an email to julia.zeroth@gmail.com or michelle.ernst@cchmc.org. We are looking forward to co-creating this special, safe community and welcome any input from our members as we move forward in support and solidarity.

All the best,

Julia Zeroth, Ph.D.
Co-Facilitator, Mental Health Affinity Group