Mental Health Takes Center Stage: More African Americans in Pittsburgh going to therapy


“If you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of anybody else.”

— Shantel Pizaro, mother of Steven Eason


Shantel Pizaro is the mother who, for the last two years and one month, has had to live with the trauma of the tragic loss of her son, Steven Eason.

Just trying to have a good time, Eason and friends went to the Haunted Hills Hayride in North Versailles on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. An altercation occurred, and Eason tried to break up a fight when he was shot and killed, at the Hayride. He was just 15 years old, a sophomore at Central Catholic High School.

In no way, shape or form has it been easy for Pizaro. She said as much during a community town hall hosted by the local Gateway Medical Society and KDKA Radio’s “Minority Health Matters” show. The town hall was labeled, “Mental Health & Gun Violence — Solutions, Not Just Talk!” The event was held, Oct. 7, at Community College of Allegheny County’s main campus on the North Side.

The phrase “Mental Health” is becoming more prevalent in the Black community. It seemed as though for generations, most Black families sidestepped the notion that taking care of one’s mental health was even, a thing.

Mental health is defined as “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.” While Black therapists have been around, they’ve become more top-of-mind in today’s world, and Pizaro had no problem telling moderator Lynne Hayes-Freeland and those in attendance that she goes to therapy sessions every two weeks.

Pizaro’s daughter goes to therapy every week, as well. Remember, Pizaro’s daughter has had to deal with the loss of her brother, too.

“You have to talk to somebody. You have to let it out,” Pizaro said. She said she tells her daughter to “find your safe space and express yourself, someone who’s not going to judge you or look down on you for saying how you feel. Therapy is so important to be able to express and get some feedback on how you’re feeling.”

Pizaro’s daughter has shown “such resilience,” Pizaro said. “I’m stuck in a phase of, what can I do to make sure my daughter goes off to college next year…to make sure that the children at Central (Catholic) who went to school with my son can graduate…”

Seated next to Pizaro was Pittsburgh’s affable mayor, Ed Gainey. Most of the audience thought that Mayor Gainey was going to say that he was a regular in therapy sessions, but not so.

“I went to therapy three times and didn’t go back,” the mayor said. “My excuse was…I got a city to run, I don’t know any Black men who went to therapy, I didn’t grow up like that.”


But that was the point of the town hall forum. You never know what people are going or have gone through. You never know who is going to therapy to have a professional check on their mental health, or who doesn’t feel they need it. However, it’s a safe bet, though unfortunate, that most African Americans in the Pittsburgh area have been affected in some way due to gun violence. Possibly directly, but maybe there was a son’s friend who was shot. Or the community leader or youth football coach  that everyone knew. Or the co-worker. Maybe gun violence affects how people feel in their own neighborhoods. Maybe they don’t want to venture out late at night. Somehow, some way, gun violence is affecting many, but how many are being proactive about the trauma they may experience from it?

“There’s a lot of childhood traumas that we experience,” Mayor Gainey said, “and we try to bury it by saying, ‘that’s life,’ and just move on, no matter how severe the trauma…Most of these young Black men, they don’t know anything about counseling, therapy…all they know is, ‘chuck it up,’ ‘hold it in’ and go get it. That’s what we know.”

The mayor, known not to bite his tongue, said that there are so many layers to peel when it comes to stopping gun violence and thus, improving mental health among the Black community. But a good start is making sure young African Americans don’t look to the “street” for trying to build a reputation. Instead, the real reputation needed is to stay out of trouble, value education, and then, as an adult, be uber-present in your child’s life.

“If we don’t take our children out of the city to see something different, to imagine what they can be; if we don’t stop letting radio telling them that they’re gangsters and thugs, and go back through history and see that they are kings and queens, then they will never be able to grow no further than what they see on the ‘ave.’”

The mayor continued: “The greatest drug in the world is the ‘ave’ because it gives you a rep, a name; you can make a name in the streets by being called ‘killa’ even though at the end of the day, the only thing they’re killing are the deaths you’re putting on our people.”

Pizaro responded by saying she was from Homewood, but “once I had my twins, I tried to make it my business to not have them grow up the way I did, to provide them with the things I was not provided with, to not see people selling drugs on the corner and dead bodies laying around. I worked hard and it made it my vision to make sure my children didn’t have to experience it. And to work so hard for so long, to put my children in different environments, but the end result still turns around like my son was in that environment, is heartbreaking.”

According to a 2022 Black Mental Health Workforce Survey Report presented by The Association of Black Psychologists Inc., just 4 percent of psychologists, 2 percent of psychiatrists, 22 percent of social workers, 7 percent of marriage and family counselors, and 11 percent of professional counselors were reported to be Black.

For Mayor Gainey, he said it’s just “excuses” when it comes to not seeing a therapist regularly. And in that regard, “that’s why I’m immature” in that area. He said his wife, First Lady Michelle Gainey, is a regular at therapy.

Pizaro, who is still waiting on justice for her son, is also a regular at therapy.

“If you don’t take care of you,” she said, “you can’t take care of anybody else.”

For more discussion on the community town hall, join Lynne Hayes-Freeland as she speaks more in-depth with Mayor Ed Gainey, Shantel Pizaro, and the many other panelists, at noon, Saturday, Oct. 14, on KDKA Radio (1020 AM, 100.1 FM).




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