by Catherine Brewer ’20
When it comes to mental health, Phillip J. Roundtree thinks that you can have Jesus and a therapist.
At the event “Black Mental Health Matters,” Roundtree discussed the complexities of mental health with a focus on access to healthcare for people of color, but also across racial and ethnic lines.
The event, which is part of Providence College’s larger Mental Health Awareness Month, was held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 24. It was hosted by Active Minds, BMSA, PC Life-Lines Grant, Office of Institutional Diversity, and The Center at Moore Hall.
Roundtree is a master’s level clinician and performance enhancement specialist who specializes in behavioral health and child welfare. He is also the founder of Quadefy LLC, an organization that is dedicated to promoting mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness.
Standing in front of a crowd in Moore Hall, Roundtree donned a T-shirt bearing the words “Black Healing Matters!”
Despite the gleaming smile that stretches across his face, Roundtree lives with anxiety and depression, and was suicidal for 15 years.
His goal was to create a safe, reflective space to discuss mental health, especially the disparities in access to resources for minority groups. He actively advocates for the marginalized and underrepresented.
Roundtree’s goal was to engage the audience in a discussion around mental health that could potentially eradicate the stigma surrounding it. He also wanted to help students recognize that there are benefits in seeking counseling or therapy.
“When we think about mental health in America, we don’t think about black people,” Roundtree explained.
He began by providing the audience with a personal backstory, detailing how he came to be a speaker on mental health.
Growing up, Roundtree observed what he described as “black boy rage:” young men expressing their emotions by means of what society perceives as “acting out,” which is the result of a combination of trauma, a lack of access to counseling and therapy, and suppression of pent up anger, confusion, and sadness.
Trauma is unique to every individual; in Roundtree’s case, he experienced the death of his brother while he was in high school, as well as his mother’s nervous breakdown one morning. “I was still expected to go to school that day, I was still expected to perform,” Roundtree stated.
Roundtree has also experienced the trauma of racial discrimination in America.
When police commit acts of racial bias and brutality, the black community is left to deal with the trauma and fear that these bring.
News outlets and social media also perpetuate a destructive narrative of people of color, which is harmful on an individual and collective level.
Roundtree described the racial bias that he has encountered with police, which has caused him to feel anxiety and fear towards law enforcement. It is a constant reminder of pain.
Nevertheless, there is still pressure within the black community to push through trauma, as slaves, those living in the Jim Crow era, and Civil Rights movement activists have done before them.
“We have to push on, our ancestors pushed on…but this can be detrimental,” Roundtree explained.
This narrative fits into one of the barriers to treatment that Roundtree discussed: the perception of mental health.
He explained that while many people have internalized the idea that receiving treatment for mental health makes one “crazy,” that everyone can and should have access to a therapist.
He provided information about resources on campus and in Providence, including the Personal Counseling Center in lower Bedford Hall.
Roundtree also noted that a lack of familiarity with the process of getting treatment is a hindrance. If people do not know the resources that are available, or have never talked to a counselor, the steps to receiving care can be daunting.
These barriers affect individuals across racial and ethnic lines. For the black community in particular, Afro-centric cultural values, spiritual beliefs, and historical medical mistrust, as evidenced by the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, are added to the list.
Roundtree urged the audience to shift the narrative on mental health by referring to mental illness as “living with mental wellness issues.”
He feels that this term sheds a more positive light on receiving care, and also acknowledges that someone can be a son, daughter, student, or athlete while still working on personal happiness and quality of life.
He encouraged the PC community to learn healthy coping strategies, including exercising for fun, controlled breathing, journaling, limiting cell phone use, and engaging with nature.
For white students who want to be allies to the black community, Roundtree acknowledged that it is important for allies to speak up for marginalized groups, even in all-white settings.
“I plant a seed. For some people, it might of clicked right there,” Roundtree explained, “For others, in ten years from now, they might not remember my name, but they will remember that they learned something about mental health.”
While he concedes that talking about mental health and allyship can make people uncomfortable, embracing this feeling is how individuals can create real change in their communities.
On the evening before the Black Mental Health Matters event, Roundtree also spoke to the student athletes of the College.
While Mental Health Awareness Month only lasts for the duration of October, there is a greater movement on campus to raise consciousness about the importance of mental health coined, “You’re Never Alone in Friartown.”
John Rock, the senior associate athletic director for sports medicine, is one of the founders of this campaign, which began in the fall of 2017.
After attending the first Big East Mental Health Summit at Georgetown University in June of 2017, Rock and other PC staff members wanted to bring the awareness that they had gained to their own community to create positive change.
“The mission is to create more awareness around mental health issues with our student-athletes,” said Rock. “[Our] primary hope is to increase awareness and destigmatize mental health issues.”
Spreading the slogan “It is okay to not be okay,” Rock wants student athletes to feel comfortable talking with others about their mental health or any struggles that they are facing.
This October, he spoke with the PC faculty and staff to encourage them to be additional resources for students. The college community has picked up on the slogan, and now the movement has spread to encompass the mental health of all students, faculty, and staff.
“The mental health stigma is predominant among student-athletes and I want that to change,” Rock explained, adding that he is motivated to continue the campaign out of his care for the health and welfare of PC student-athletes.
He looks forward to the next event, “We Are All A Little Crazy,” which will take place in February 2019.
Rock also is continuing to work with the Personal Counseling Center with the hopes of adding a clinical sports psychologist to the staff for roughly three days per week.
As the month comes to a close, more changes are still to come for the PC community, and sustained mental health awareness comes without an expiration date.