In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating three women who are pioneering advancements in the field of mental health. Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett (pictured), and Dr. Yasmine Van Wilt are innovative heroes, working towards one greater good.
Joy Harden Bradford
Dr. Joy is an Atlanta-based clinical psychologist and the founder of a mental health platform and podcast called Therapy for Black Girls. Dr. Joy started her career as a college counselor, and has since shifted her focus to helping Black women support each other’s mental health.
The cultural divides surrounding mental health care provide extra barriers to treatment: the stigma against seeking help is more powerful in Black communities, and the deeply engrained racial inequality in our medical system means those who do look for help are faced with a lack of accessible, understanding service providers.
Dr. Joy has fielded countless requests for Black women therapists, and she’s addressed this need on a larger scale by creating an online therapist directory called Thrive Tribe.
Her podcast, Therapy for Black Girls, and the blog of the same name, are spaces dedicated to Black women's mental health. In an interview with HuffPost, she advocated for more complete conversations about these topics:
“I wanted to create a platform that allowed black women to connect to mental health topics in a way that felt relevant and accessible to them... A lot of times when we talk about mental illness or mental health, I think there’s a lot missing from the conversation. I don’t think we always do a great job focusing on mental wellness, and realizing that we all have mental health we have to take care of.”
Dr. Joy's emphasis on frank, accessible conversations about mental health and dedication to building supportive communities have created spaces to strive for healthier minds and stronger bonds.
Lisa Feldman Barrett
Dr. Feldman Barrett is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, director of the Interdisciplinary Affective Science Laboratory, and a founding editor-in-chief of the journal Emotion Review. Born to a working-class Canadian family, Dr. Barrett was the first member of her extended family to attend college.
Her goal had been to practice clinical psychology, and she was pursuing her PhD at the University of Waterloo when she ran into a problem. After failing multiple times to replicate what should have been a simple experiment, she realized the results she had written off as failures were actually demonstrating a previously undiscovered neurological process.
Pursuing this mystery led her away from a future as a therapist, and spurred her trailblazing career of discovering how the human brain produces emotions. Her massive academic contributions have spanned the fields of social psychology, psychophysiology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience. In 2020, she was ranked in the top one percent of the most-cited scientists in the world.
In addition to being an influential figure for other academics, Dr. Barrett is dedicated to sharing knowledge of the brain with the general public. In an interview with The British Psychological Society, she explains that her findings are not only relevant to everyone, but empowering:
"You have much more control over your emotional life than the classical view of emotion would imply, with its stories of emotion circuits that trigger automatically and are regulated after the fact. If emotions are constructed from more basic ingredients, you can alter the ingredients and change your life."
To share her research with a wider audience, she’s written two books, How Emotions are Made and Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain, and her 2018 TED Talk was in the top 25 most-viewed that year.
Her drive to discover more about the brain has helped change the course of multiple scientific fields, and her talent for making this knowledge accessible for anyone means that any person who's curious about their own inner workings gets to share in the joy of discovery.
- TED Talk
- Association for Psychological Science
- The British Psychological Society
- How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
- Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain
Yasmine Van Wilt
Dr. Van Wilt is an award-winning singer-songwriter, dramatist, producer. She also holds a PhD in Creative Writing and is Artist-in-Residence to the Columbia University Global Mental Health Program. She combines her powers as an artist and academic to advocate for mental health and sustainability.
Her wide range of artistic projects hold a common value at their core: challenging entrenched ideas and subverting expectations. In an interview with In the Words Of, Dr. Van Wilt explains how she juxtaposes context with content to create the unexpected:
“‘Theatre of the Masque’ is the general term I use to describe the genre of my solo projects. The ‘Masque’ is the construction of context: For example, sometimes a project will seem to be a music gig (it’s performed in a multi-arts venue, I play guitar, sing & speak to the audience) but is actually a piece of scripted theatre, performed in character….”
Her work in the academic world has the same paradigm-shaking aspirations. For the Columbia University Global Mental Health Program, she created workshops and performances to “interrogate, theorize, and humanize emotional suffering.”
She views art as a powerful tool for mental health, and her most recent project, Neuralpositive, is on the forefront of increasing that power. Neural Positive is a company founded to optimize the therapeutic potential of music, an exciting addition to the toolbox of mental health support.
By challenging expectations and using artistic media in new ways, Dr. Van Wilt shines a light on the “other” in society, and encourages her audiences to step into a new perspective and increase their compassion.
Each of these women has shaped the field of mental health in a different way. The types of heroism they represent are broad and often overlapping, but they show how different approaches can work together and become more powerful as we combine them.
Whether they remind of strengths we already have, or those we'd like to develop, we can take inspiration from them as we shape our own lives and communities.