Posted on: October 7, 2020 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Deana Elhit, Features Editor

As a Black woman, Latoya Johnson-Foster experiences anxiety every day.

“I fear for my husband and for my daughter growing up into this world and having to navigate the world on her own,” she said. “This is the reality of Black men and women. We have to worry what we are facing once we step one foot out of our house.” 

As a Moraine Valley counselor and a therapist in private practice, Johnson-Foster sees firsthand the struggles with depression and anxiety many Black people are dealing with, at a higher rate than Caucasians. 

“We’re all trying to figure out how to make it through each day safely without contracting COVID-19,” she said. “On top of that, we are constantly being exposed to police forces killing Black men, women and children. We’re constantly being exposed to violence and there’s an increase of trauma.” 

Latoya Johnson-Foster, a Moraine Valley counselor, has written a book to help Black women handle anxiety and depression.

To help Black women get past the stigma of mental illness and seek the help they need, Johnson-Foster 31, wrote and self-published a book, “I Got This! 30 Day Tips for Black Women with Anxiety or Depression.” She wrote the book in 2018, inspired by her own struggle with depression and anxiety. 

Mental health is a topic she feels needs to be more open, especially now. In her book, Johnson-Foster explains that African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems and suffer anxiety disorders for a longer period of time than Caucasians due to not addressing their mental struggles with professionals.

“Especially for people of color, there is that mental health stigma from years and years ago where any struggles we have, any problems we have, we’re really encouraged to keep it in house,” she says, “but as you can see that’s not the best way and not the healthiest way to deal with mental health struggles because they aren’t going anywhere unless they are addressed.”

Johnson-Foster received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Chicago State University and a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling from Governors State University. 

Personal experience inspires book

In 2017, she felt lost and saw changes in both her personal and social life, finding it all difficult to manage. Although her symptoms weren’t severe, she was experiencing high-functioning depression because she was still able to go to work and interact with family and friends. 

At the end of the night, she wasn’t addressing her own mental health needs, leading her to a side effect of being unable to sleep. This continued for weeks, making it hard for her to get out of bed. 

“I just felt lost in everything that needed to be done,” she said. “I realized I needed to do something because I got tired of waking up everyday and not feeling my best self.

“To me, it’s about how motivated you are to get the help you need. In order to change anything about yourself, you have to acknowledge that something is off with you, whether that be mentally, physically or emotionally.”

During COVID-19,  many therapists are taking sessions online, making it a good time to have appointments through video and home sessions from the comfort of your own home, says Johnson-Foster.

Johnson-Foster explains she felt as though she was unprepared because situations such as a pandemic were not discussed in graduate school. There was no rule book saying, “This is what you should do in the midst of a pandemic.” 

African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems and suffer anxiety disorders for a longer period of time than Caucasians due to not addressing their mental struggles with professionals.

“It’s definitely an interesting time to be a therapist because we are trying to help others while navigating my own fear of COVID-19 while everything else is happening,” Johnson-Foster said. “I encourage my class to stay in the moment, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but what is happening to you in the present moment. As that’s what’s most important.”

Since lockdown took place, Johnson-Foster has been working on her therapy sessions and keeping in contact with her patients and students at home through video and voice calls. 

“I love the fact that we’re still able to provide these services to students professionally from the comfort of our own home because now we have to be safe,” she said. “There has been an increase of individuals wanting therapy due to the current state of the world.”

Since working from home, Johnson-Foster has found more time for her patients, allowing her to open additional slots. “I can see clients as early as 8-9 in the morning and as late as 8-9 in the evening,” she said.

All of Johnson-Foster’s caseload is African-American men and women. “I’m happy to see more people,” she said. “Black people especially are really seeking therapy to address their mental health struggles because it’s okay, there’s no judgment there. We really have to get away from the stigma to say ‘hey, it’s okay I have a therapist’ and I’ve wanted therapy because it helps.”

Johnson-Foster uses social media to destigmatize therapy. She is not afraid to say that she too has had a therapist for the past year and a half. “For me, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it shouldn’t be anything anyone else should be ashamed for because we’re human, and we don’t always have it all together,” she said. 

Shortage of Black therapists challenging

Johnson-Foster also expresses the lack of resources and culturally competent therapists, especially for people of color. 

According to the American Psychological Association, there aren’t enough Black therapists and only 4 percent of psychologists are Black.

Johnson-Foster’s writing process varied throughout the development of the book, as she would write  on and off to regain fresh ideas to help her capture symptoms that Black women experience that we don’t commonly hear about. 

On the top of the page you will find “what you may experience” revealing symptoms that contribute to anxiety, followed by a positive quote written by Johnson-Foster herself. On the bottom of the page, coping skills are introduced to help address and control the symptoms you are presently experiencing.

The most challenging part of writing the book was Johnson-Foster wanting to be the most authentic self she could be for her readers. She didn’t want to include any online-based information.

When designing her front cover, Johnson-Foster explains she wanted people to relate to it when spotting it on the bookshelves. She loves affirmations and incorporated three statements into the afro of the Black woman’s hair, “I am worthy! I am able! I am strong!”  Johnson-Foster believes repeating affirmations will help her readers to act upon these statements, helping to rebuild their esteem. 

“The book empowers black women because it has a huge focus on making yourself a priority and self aware about what’s happening with your body, both physically and mentally,” she said. 

Johnson-Foster discusses coping mechanisms that can be introduced for Black men and women, such as “be in the present moment to deal with what’s happening with the world on a daily basis. It’s taking it moment by moment because you just don’t know what tomorrow will bring because that’s future focused. What happened yesterday because that’s the past, it’s all about what’s happening for you, and your family in this present moment,” she said

Johnson-Foster expresses her love for her job being a therapist and being able to help people navigate their own mental struggles. “I’m constantly learning as a therapist myself. There are times where I learn from my clients and I am open to that. There are a lot of times that they learn from me and that is the best part of my job,” she said.

Her book, I Got This! 30 Day Tips for Black Women with Anxiety or Depression is available to purchase at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. It retails for $15.