Intersections of Health
Advocating for mental health equality
With mental health at the forefront of many industries, even those not struggling with issues are aware that many others are and are looking for ways to help. JOSALIN HUNTER, a clinical therapist and professor at UNCW, is one of those people trying her best to help others.
With degrees in both social work and public health, including a doctorate degree in philosophy with a focus on health promotion and behavior, Hunter has very thorough training that enables her to understand patients of all backgrounds. She also recently launched her private practice Journey to Healing.
“I am broadly interested in the intersection of health disparities and social justice,” says Hunter. “I do my best to be engaged with individuals as a therapist in private practice, and on a more macro level engaging in research, community service, and advocacy for the health and mental health of people of color.”
She says she became interested in social work while working as a student worker in a lab during her early undergraduate days. She was working on a study that explored genotypes for familial breast and prostate cancer among African Americans in New Orleans.
“The study coordinator, SHARON, was a social worker, and I was fascinated by her perspective as it related to health. Sharon, the affected families I met, and the work at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center left a lasting impression on me,” she says. “Shortly thereafter, I began the pursuit of a Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health degrees. The fields complement one another so well.”
The process of achieving her doctorate degree was sometimes challenging and she recalls that sometimes she wanted to quit.
“I remember the day that I drafted a letter about how overwhelmed I was and how the dissertation just seemed too difficult to complete. I also remember having a complete meltdown in the parking lot and having peers talk me through. I had a black woman co-chair and mentor who said, ‘the best dissertation is a done dissertation,’ So… simply put, I got it done,” she says.
What helped her the most is having a support group and accountability partners. “It also helps to see people who look like you who have ‘PHinisheD.’ They help to make what seems impossible begin to look possible.”
As a professor, Hunter has a unique view of those possibly most at-risk for poor mental health – undergraduate students facing the realities of life’s upcoming challenges.
“One of the things I enjoy most about being a professor is the energy on university campuses including the creativity, the learning, and the ambitious curiosity,” says Hunter. “For me, by far, the most enjoyable thing about being a professor is teaching and mentoring students. It’s getting know to students, where they come from and their stories, and where they want to go – and then, doing my part to inspire that.”
Hunter also founded Becoming HER, a support group for teens.
“Becoming HER is an outgrowth of years of research, work and now, practice,” says Hunter. “In 2009, for my MPH capstone project, I designed a full eight-week intervention curriculum on mental and sexual health for teen and young adult girls in post-Katrina, New Orleans. Ultimately, I believe that working with women, particularly women of color, is my calling. I want to work with women as they, as we, ‘become.’”
A cohort of Becoming HER girls inspired Hunter to create “Be Still and Know: A Coloring Book of Affirmations for Young Black Girls and Women” which can be found on Amazon and features mindful coloring pages and affirmations directly from her teen girl group.
This year, she aims to continue facilitating groups, hire staff at her practice and organize the very first Becoming HER Institute.
“It is pretty cool to reflect on how my ideas have evolved over the past almost thirteen years since building my first intervention and how excited I still get to meet new, powerful young ladies,” she says.
Perhaps the greatest fact about Hunter besides being a mother to her two favorite little people (son, JAIDEN, and daughter, ZOEY) is that she loves what she does which makes all the difference in her effectiveness.
“It is an absolute blessing to do what I do,” says Hunter. “The work that I do is hard work, but it is rewarding. At the end of the day, my commitments are to do my part in mentoring the next generation and empowering young women to reach higher heights.”
She is also committed to taking a stand for equity and human rights for those who have been marginalized.
“Sometimes, I will take that stand in the classroom, sometimes in front of the couch, sometimes in nature, and sometimes in spirit – but either way, I will take a stand. It only takes ONE – one mentor, one friend, one person who sees enough greatness in someone else to stop, hold a mirror and help that light shine. I just want to encourage others to be that ONE, shine bright always, and stand tall.”
To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to terahhoobler.com.
Want more WILMA? Click here to sign up for our WILMA newsletters and announcements.