Finding Peace in Anxious Times

Anesis’ Myra McNair, Vanessa Statam, Kevin Doss, and Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen.

The psychological damage inflicted by the COVID-19 crisis is finally becoming clear, as new evidence shows symptoms of depression and anxiety have surged since the outbreak disrupted daily life. Yet Black Americans, who have disproportionately suffered from the novel coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, are shouldering an ever heavier mental health burden as a racial justice movement has ripped open centuries-old wounds of systemic racism.

How does one process those weighted feelings? According to Myra McNair, the most logical answer is to simply ask for help.

McNair, who is the owner and founder of Anesis Therapy in Madison, said her office has experienced a substantial uptick in calls from those seeking to address their deteriorating mental health. The therapy center was established in 2016 as a premier psychotherapy clinic, providing culturally competent services to Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) individuals, families and children of all ages.

“Overarching and integral to all modalities utilized at Anesis is the recognition and acknowledgement of how the impact of racism, inequitable society systems, and structures show up in the lives of the culturally diverse clients Anesis served,” McNair said.

Access to mental health care remains a significant challenge for many, she added. According to a 2018 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, of the 4.8 million Black Americans with mental illness, roughly 70% did not receive treatment. The high cost of sessions coupled with the stigma of psychotherapy are to blame.

Anesis Therapy is a state certified clinic that currently serves over 400 clients ranging from different faiths, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual orientations. The clinic represents one of the most, if not the most diverse Black women-owned businesses in Dane County with employees of Black, Latinx, southeast Asian, and European descent, said McNair, who was recognized as a Health Innovator by Madison Magazine and an InBusiness Magazine 40 under 40 recipient.

“Now more than ever is a great time to take advantage of getting into therapy,” McNair said. “A lot of us are working from home and we don’t have to worry about hustling back and forth from work to a therapy appointment. We can attend therapy through telehealth video conferencing from the privacy of our homes. We have more time to slow down, process and heal. It is important to know that you do not need to wait to come in when you are in crisis, but that mental wellness is about maintaining our mental health. Just like our physical health sometimes we just need checkups or appointments for maintenance.”

UMOJA Magazine reached out to McNair to offer advice on making it through these troubled times. She holds a Bachelor of Art in Biology and a Master of Science in marriage and family therapy with specialties in trauma, addiction, infant mental health, parent/child attachment, marriage counseling, trauma-informed practices, and cultural interventions.

She is married to Colier McNair, a pastor at Blackhawk Church, and is a mother of four. In September, Anesis entered a partnership with Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the largest Black congregation in Madison with over 500 members. The union will enable the church to provide mental health services in the heart of the South Side. 

Here’s more of what McNair shared regarding mental health in the era of COVID-19.

UMOJA: Have you noticed an increase in the number of calls to your office since COVID descended and interrupted our daily lives? 

Myra: Yes, we have had a huge number of calls and new clients since the pandemic. We are seeing a range of new patients who have never had mental health treatment and those whose mental health symptoms have exacerbated since the pandemic. Many couples and families that had some distress before the pandemic now know that these issues are not going to go anywhere without the issues or problems being talked about. 

UMOJA: There’s an obvious fear experienced by children and adults who are afraid that they will contract the coronavirus and die. There’s also those who have been living in isolation for more than six months. More are facing job loss or having their business’ door shut forever. Not to mention watching unarmed Black men and women being gunned down. Aside from saying things like, life will get better, what advice can one give to those struggling mentally and emotionally from these issues?

Myra: Sometimes the best thing we can do is to listen, active listening and being present. Saying things like you’ll get over it or it’s not that bad are not helpful things to say. Ask how can I help? Or, just being present and active listening is helpful.

Knowing resources and what to do in a middle of a mental health crisis of a loved one is hard. Calling a crisis line to get help and resources is crucial. Right now, there is a lack of services especially for crisis situations. As a community we need to uplift one another and see how we can support families who have no other choices in health care. 

UMOJA: Are there obvious symptoms of someone having a tough time with their mental wellness?

Myra: Watch for changes in sleep patterns and eating; changes in mood and motivation; or, someone feeling on edge or keyed up. Also, some may not be finding joy in activities that they’ve enjoyed in the past, and are not able to focus and/or have suicidal ideation. The biggest thing is if your symptoms interrupt your daily functioning and relationships. 

Sometimes mental health issues manifest into physical health issues like headaches, stomach pains, muscle tension and high blood pressure. Seek help.

UMOJA: Why is therapy important to Black people and families and how best can we be beat the stigma associated with mental health treatment?

Myra: As Black people, we have always been taught that “we are strong and resilient” and yes this is true. But this narrative ignores the human part of us. We have never been allowed to pause or slow down for healing. Our society tell us to suck it up ꟷ all the sadness, grief and trauma are then passed down to the next generation. 

I feel that since we have been open the stigma is lifting. When you see a bunch of providers that are BIPOC coming together for our community that creates an environment that says this is okay to seek and get the help you need.

UMOJA: Lastly, what advice can you give to make it through the times we are living in? (i.e., meditation, yoga, music, dancing, books, journaling…???)

Myra: There are some apps that I love to recommend to my clients, Headspace, Healthy minds (which is based in Madison), Think Up, Liberate (which is all Black clinicians leading the meditations) and Calm.

Practicing mindfulness through meditation, prayer and gratefulness are all evidenced based practices that Black people have been doing for years and I say keep on doing it! Journaling is a great outlet to process feelings and emotions. 

To learn more about services at Anesis Therapy visit the center’s website at