February is Black History Month, a time when our nation celebrates the achievements of African Americans throughout history and honors their significant contributions to society. It’s also an opportunity to open dialogue focused on race, equality and other important issues impacting the Black community.

This Black History Month comes at a particularly important time. Social injustice, racial inequity, and civil unrest – all intertwined with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted Black communities in disproportionate numbers and is taking the lives of people of color at an alarming rate.

It’s all consuming. It has our thoughts going in all different directions. When it seems the issues are simply overwhelming, it’s common to mask your feelings and stay silent. But talking about it can bring healing and change.

This month, we reflect on our Black leaders, past and present, who spoke up and used their voices for change. From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose iconic speeches still resonate with us today — to emerging leaders using their voice right now in the fight for social justice.

Our words matter. Our actions matter. And our words and actions aren’t limited to healing society, it is also a personal venture to heal ourselves in the aftermath of this last year.

Healing ourselves and taking time to reflect on our accomplishments is a key aspect of Black History Month.  A part of healing is reflecting on the strength and courage of our ancestry so we can garner the same strength and courage to continue in their legacy.

Like so many other families, I have not seen my parents in-person for many months. We communicate online, to be as safe as possible through COVID-19.  It’s taking an emotional toll on my parents and not having that personal connection has certainly left an emptiness in me. But being honest about my emotions and accepting the impact they have on me has created a deeper understanding of whole person health.

A vital area where our words have tremendous power, is talking about our feelings with a mental health professional. Talking through seemingly insurmountable problems and dealing with chronic stressors that have built up in Black people over the course of a lifetime, can be a pivotal step in assessing and overcoming anxiety and depression.

In the Black community, there’s a well-known, but often hidden, stigma in seeking the help of a mental health professional.  Research has shown Black adults were more likely than White adults to report feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and feeling like everything is an effort, but only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it.1

It’s also been associated with a sense of weakness in character and a lack of faith or spirituality, as to why a person would need to talk about their personal feelings with a mental health professional.  When in fact, a professional might be the person who helps us sort through our emotions and sets us on a course of a healthy mind, body, and spirit — a crucial step in the mental well-being of our culture.

The message is resonating among an increasing number of African Americans today, but the reluctance to seek help is still very much evident and concerning.

I would offer three things we can do to honor Black History Month and each other in this time of healing:

  • Engage in dialogue with family and friends. Have those uncomfortable, but informative conversations about race and equality, reflect on the past, and make a collective commitment to change the present and the future.
  • If you need help, seek out help.
  • Support one another and be an ally.

At Anthem, we recognize the importance of open dialogue and authentic conversations in our organization about race, diversity, and equity, and we’ll continue to make it a priority to promote awareness and empower our associates and communities. As we combat health disparities and social injustices, we’re committed to modeling the way as a leader for change.

During Black History Month, as we reflect on our past, celebrate our achievements, heal in the present, and look forward to a prosperous and healthy future — we must continue the dialogue and never underestimate the power of our words and our actions.