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Former Saints player Delvin Breaux works with New Orleans clinic for mental health awareness

The Advocate - 6/16/2024

Jun. 16—For former Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux, a chance meeting changed his life — for the better. A friend simply asked him about his mental state.

The friend didn't know that Breaux was going through such a difficult time, but Breaux took it as a sign to seek out help.

It was one of the best decisions he ever made, Breaux said. He went on to speak to therapists and address his mental health issues, then was able to play in the NFL and the Canadian Football League. The 34-year-old said he's in a much better place.

Now retired, he's sharing his story to help other people like him.

But earlier, things had been bad. When Breaux was just 9 years old, he attempted to take his own life. Growing up in a chaotic household with domestic violence had negative impacts on his mental state, Breaux said.

During college, he suffered from the beginnings of psychosis and depression after serious neck injuries in high school.

Recently, Breaux was at the Broad Theater with the Early Psychosis Intervention Clinic New Orleans, which was screening a documentary about mental health and hosting a resource fair. The "Every Mind Matters" Roundtable is a documentary series, and the clinic will release new episodes every month.

The Early Psychosis Intervention Clinic provides evaluation and treatment to patients 12 to 35 years old who have recently started to experience psychosis. The clinic is affiliated with the Tulane University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Receiving treatment from a general mental health clinic is not the same as receiving specialized treatment, according to the center's website.

"Three decades of research shows that specialized treatment as early as possible upon a first psychosis episode improves an individual's outcomes across the board," the site says.

Black men talking about mental health

The first installment of "Every Mind Matters" featured Breaux and musician Walter (Kango Slim) Williams from the group Partners-N-Crime. The two New Orleans natives discussed their experience with overcoming mental challenges such as psychosis, anxiety and depression.

"I think it's big for Black men to talk about mental health," Breaux said. "Growing up we were always taught that you have to be strong all the time."

The screening was part of the clinic's psychosis awareness campaign, Clear Answers to Louisiana Mental Health, which aims to educate all systems on the importance of early intervention. About 3 out of 100 people are affected by psychosis, which often makes people feel disconnected from reality. Some symptoms include hearing or seeing things that others can't, paranoia and delusional thoughts.

Serena Chaudry, public health director for the Early Psychosis Intervention Clinic, said the series will consist of monthly discussions among mental health patients, advocates and experts. The next screening will be from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 27 at The Broad Theater.

Every episode will be posted on the Clear Answers to Louisiana Mental Health YouTube page after screening.

At the May 17 documentary screening at Broad Theater, both Breaux and Williams watched alongside the audience and briefly answered questions afterward. Partner organizations such as Oceans Behavioral Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness offered lock bags for medication, informational pamphlets and more.

After the screening, Williams was asked about sharing his story.

"It was like sitting down with a therapist," he said. "It felt good to have that one on one and that release. A real good feeling."

Williams' psychosis was triggered by the death of his son in 2022, he said.

Recovery is real

While psychosis can happen to anyone, Chaudry said that, with help, it is more than possible to still live a happy and fulfilling life. The "Every Mind Matters" Roundtable series also features accounts from patients at the clinic.

"We want people to know psychosis is real, but so is recovery," Chaudry said.

Branesha D. Muller, author and patient at the clinic, said when she started to experience psychosis she didn't know what was happening, but she knew something was wrong. She said since her time at the Early Psychosis Intervention Clinic, her recovery has felt smooth.

"I think some people don't realize that we can do anything they can do. We just happen to be carrying an extra bag with us," said Muller, whose debut poetry collection, "Authentic Vulnerability," reflects her experience with psychosis.

While the clinic provides patients with various resources, there is a greater need for more. In the future, the organization plans to open psychosis clinics in South Central Louisiana to allow for more specialized providers to fill the gaps and get more people the help they need.

"If we can engage the community at large, public figures in particular, in talking about their experience," Chaudry said, "then that might help destigmatize the topic of psychosis."

It's important that society makes sure future generations don't fall into the same traps as the people who came before, Breaux said.

"I'm tired of hearing, 'They didn't teach us that back in the day,'" Breaux said. "I don't want to hear all that! It's time to make a change."

Following the screening, Breaux hosted his second annual Mental Health Bootcamp at Dillard University. In partnership with the Center for Racial Justice, the camp conducted wellness workshops and fitness activities for athletes 10-21 years old.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis or suicidal thoughts please reach out to the suicide prevention hotline at 988. You can also text "HELLO" to 741741. These resources are free, confidential and available 24/7.

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