Mental health advocate Tamu Lewis has a personal interest in the stigmas surrounding mental health, and how they can prevent one from seeking the help they need. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 63% of Black people surveyed about mental health conditions believe them to be an indicator of personal weakness. Mental health issues impacted Lewis personally, when her brother, actor Lee Thompson Young, committed suicide in 2013. As a result, Lewis set out to aid and educate African Americans on mental health and other disparities within the community.
Utilizing her 24 years of experience in human resources and consulting, Lewis pivoted towards sharing her knowledge to aid others. Supplementing her previous education, she earned certification as a mental health first aider, positive discipline parent educator, life coach and crisis text line counselor. She also began writing her book, “Surviving the Mental Health Tank,” in January 2021, to further assist in the healing process after losing her brother, and having her own child diagnosed with the same mental condition. She also continued to share her experiences and insight with individuals who were struggling with their own mental wellness.
In her book, Lewis stresses a comprehensive approach to combating health issues, including learning to grieve and establishing meaningful self-care rituals.
“Part of my experience is wanting to be more proactive with others and helping erase the stigma in the community,” Lewis said. “[Young] chose to keep his illness to himself, in fear of negatively impacting his career.”
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Young was a successful young actor that lost his life to suicide. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II in his late teens and early 20s. Young starred in various roles, including Disney Channel’s first original series “The Famous Jett Jackson,” “Akeelah and the Bee” and played the part of Detective Barry Frost in TNT’s “Rizzoli & Isles.”
In honor of his death a year later, his mother and Lewis founded the Lee Thompson Young Foundation (LTY Foundation). Lewis serves as the co-founder and board president. Its mission is to support a world where negative stigmas around mental health are significantly reduced to none. The foundation encourages well-being in every aspect of our bodies, by curating wellness programs such as MIND (Making Informed Decisions About Mental Health), offering informed and evidenced mental health studies to encourage tough conversations and promoting active engagement. The LTY Foundation also developed a program to educate caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers and others on how to support an adolescent dealing with mental conditions, or is currently involved in a mental health crisis.
“Looking back over everything we’ve been through, I can look forward to knowing that we have been there and can get through it again,” says Lewis.
Ultimately, as Lewis aims to expand the conversation further and destigmatize the negative associations surrounding mental health, she engages in speaking at various events, company workshops, and more around Atlanta.
“Surviving the Mentah Health Tank” is available on Amazon and at https://www.tamulewis.com/.
If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.