ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – December 15, 2020 – Abbie Katz, president of the Atlantic and Cape May affiliate of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), today announced the appointment of Shavonne Davis to the affiliate’s board of directors.
Davis, a victim witness advocate in Atlantic County, lives in Egg Harbor, N.J. and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Davis said she is honored to work with the other members of the board to advance the affiliate’s diversity and inclusion goal to improve mental health services in minority communities. Working to eliminate the stigma around mental health conditions that exists in society, and in the Black community in particular, is one of her primary objectives.
“There are stereotypes in the Black community about the underlying causes of mental health conditions that need to be addressed,” Davis said. “We need to educate people about the science of mental health conditions, which are associated with changes in the brain’s physiology and chemistry, and can have a genetic basis as well as environmental influences and triggers.”
In addition to stereotypes and economic factors, Davis thinks it is also a lack of trust that causes some members of the Black community to seek medical and mental health care less frequently than other segments of the population. “Our Diversity & Inclusion Committee is putting a grassroots information and education outreach in action to help build trust. This includes outreach to churches, which are pillars of the Black community.”
Dr. Jeanmarie Mason, who chairs the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, said the appointment of Davis is particularly important, given everything going on in the country regarding social injustice, violence and racial inequality, which disproportionately impacts people of color.
“We need to expand minority representation on our board so we can conduct outreach in minority communities more effectively,” Mason said. “This includes training people of color to take the lead in getting word out about NAMI and our mental health programs in the minority community.”
Educating people about how to handle a mental health crisis involving a loved one is also a critical message that NAMI communicates to families. Katz said the recent shooting of Walter Wallace by police in Philadelphia brings this reality into focus.
“It is so important for families of loved ones in crisis to know what to say when they call 911,” Katz said. “NAMI encourages families to emphasize that this is a mental health emergency, and to please send officers trained in mental health emergencies. If people had more tools in their toolbox to deal humanely with people in crisis, many tragic outcomes could be avoided.” Toward that end, NAMI helps support police with Crisis Intervention Training for effective intervention in circumstances where they encounter individuals who may suffer from mental health disorders.
This is particularly important, Katz pointed out, in light of the fact that one of every four people is affected by a mental health condition, either directly or indirectly. “Mental illness does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status,” Katz emphasized. “Early diagnosis and treatment can have a favorable impact on outcomes.”
About NAMI Atlantic/Cape May
NAMI Atlantic/Cape May, an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, provides education, advocacy and support for those who suffer from mental health conditions and for families or friends who are challenged by the disabling effect mental illness may have on their loved one. Mental health conditions may often be a co-occurring disorder with substance abuse disorders.
We work to learn more about our local and state mental health systems, how they work, how to use them gainfully and how to change them; follow new research and treatment possibilities; join with similar groups throughout New Jersey and nationwide in identifying and working for improved treatment and resources; advocate for and support legislation to improve programs and research in the field of mental health; and develop adequate aftercare services.