By Dawn Paul, Associate Editor
Public stigma occurs when a large population collaboratively accepts a discrediting stereotype (e.g., about out-group members, about individuals who are different in physical, behavioral, and other intrinsic characteristics from the perceived norm). There is a definite public stigma in the community when it comes to mental illness. Public stigma can lead to self-stigma, where one battling mental illness can become overly fixated on their diagnosis and neglect their positive attributes. Self-stigma can also impair an individual’s social and emotional functioning and quality of life. Helping heal in the area of mental health and to combat stigmas associated with mental illness, is The Village Life Center (TVLC), located in Houston, TX. Founded by Ayanna Carr-Brown (CEO), TVLC has a true heart for healing those dealing with mental illness and advocating for mental wellness.
TVLC is based in Plaquemine, Louisiana, but Ayanna has expanded the center’s reach to Houston, now taking its healing on a national level, making Houston a second home. With this being one of the largest and most diverse cities in the nation and having the experience in this area of health, TVLC has the ability to do great work in Houston, contributing to helping our community in the area of mental health and wellness. According to a recent report by CHILDREN AT RISK, an estimated 14,000 Houston children with severe mental illness do not have access to public or privately funded systems of care. “I truly have a heart for children and families in low-income areas. In many cases, the children are in low-performing school districts and the parents lack the information and resources to get their child’s needs met. What I know for sure is, if a child is not ‘mentally well,’ he/she cannot excel in school or in life. Even with a skilled teacher and great curriculum, if children don’t have the tools needed for mental wellness, they will fail or not reach their full potential. Also, if an adult is not ‘mentally well,’ he/she cannot be successful in life,” says Ayanna. TVLC wants to be a part of improving the lives of families by providing quality mental health care. TVLC is here to contribute to the betterment of Houstonians who are battling mental illness, helping to make a difference in their lives and in Houston.
Ayanna runs TVLC’s day-to-day operations and is highly-skilled when it comes to addressing mental healthcare needs. She earned her B.S. degree in Social Work from Framingham State University and her MBA from Clark Atlanta University. Not only does she have the education, but she also has the heart and the extensive experience. Her work experience started in a group home for adolescent girls. Though she worked in corporate and was very successful, it became very apparent to her that she needed to return to her calling, working to help families and children. Ayanna says, “I needed to find my way back into the lives of children that needed extra attention and support. Out of that desire, I started a company called Village Learning Solutions that offered tutoring for low-income students in failing school districts through No Child Left Behind. When that program ended, I decided to focus on mental health in children and adults, as it is the foundation for the success of any individual. From this experience, TVLC was born.”
Over the years, TVLC has worked with countless children who are dealing with issues that make it difficult for them to learn and retain information. The problems have ranged from psychological deficiencies such as ADHD to trauma, abuse, and/or neglect they may have experienced. “I thought, how can we expect these children to learn when they are not ‘whole’ mentally and physically? Many of them had negative perceptions of schools, and in some cases it was a continuation of what their parents experienced,” Ayanna expresses. It became very apparent to Ayanna that in order for children in at-risk situations to learn, grow, and reach their full potential, they had to have psychological support. Just like children need adequate food and shelter to grow and progress, they also must have the psychological support. Also, adults cannot live up to their full potential without being at their best mentally. This is where TVLC comes in. Through the leadership of Ayanna, TVLC is a great resource for adults and families whose children need quality and accessible mental health care.
TVLC’s motto is Be Positive, Patient & Persistent. Their mission is also to educate the community about the need for mental health support and that there is no shame in seeking help. Ayanna and TVLC’s staff will work diligently to change the mindset that seeking mental health support means that you are crazy. Ayanna says, “Seeking mental health support is no different than seeing a doctor for cancer or diabetes. You should nurture your mind. Our community tends to feel that counseling is embarrassing or it means that something is wrong with you. That could not be further from the truth. We are proud to be members of the Houston community, contributing to the mental health and well-being of Houstonians in need of the quality help that they need and deserve. TVLC will continue to be an advocate for mental wellness. We are proud to be in Houston, and we are here to stay.” The Village Life Center is located at 2101 Crawford, Suite 208, Houston, TX. For more information, please call 713-739-9725 or visit the center on the web at www.VillageLifeCenter.com.
Q&A With The Village Life Center
1. Talk about the stigma associated with mental illness. Stigma is a huge factor in our community. TVLC and we as a community can work together towards ending stigmas in regards to mental illness. The way counseling and mental illness are perceived has a substantial impact on people deciding not to seek help. They don’t want to be labeled as crazy. TVLC is fighting against the stigma associated with mental illness. If you have cancer, you seek medical attention, if you break your arm, you seek medical attention, diabetes, high blood pressure, and the list goes on. Well, mental illness is the same way. If you are depressed, if you have ADHD, if you have suicidal thoughts, if you have anxiety, there is help. You should see a professional and there is no shame! In fact, people with mental illness can live full, productive, successful, and happy lives if they get the help they need.
2. What does TVLC want people to understand about mental illness? There is hope for EVERY person suffering from mental illness. The right service, the right team, and the right medical attention, results in success.
3. How does TVLC want to make change in regards to addressing mental illness? As a respected member of the medical community, TVLC seeks to affect change by advocating for improvements in policy and practice. For one, making sure that all insurances, including Medicaid and Medicare cover necessary treatment for people who suffer with mental illness. Next, we can affect social change by coordinating and participating in community discussions, working with media outlets, and using social media to manage the portrayal of mental illness that reflects hope instead of negativity. Finally, we can change the perception of mental illness in an individual through education and our services.
4. Please talk about TVLC’s success rate when it comes to treating mental illness in children, youth, and adults. TVLC has served hundreds of individuals. As a result of our services, children have fewer incidents of suspension, hospitalization, and repeat incarceration. Adults are able to get and maintain employment, have improved relationships at home, and in the community. TVLC will be a leader in fighting stigma and being an educational resource for mental illness, and most importantly advocating for mental wellness.
5. Where do you see TVLC years from now? We see TVLC offering a full spectrum of mental health services to include residential facilities where people can grow and live independently. We also envision offering a safe place for children and adolescents to deal with and overcome the debilitating aspects of mental illness. Our services are and will continue to be led with love and compassion for all individuals, regardless of their circumstances.