“I’ve always been curious about how the mind works,” says La Shemah Williams, the new administrative director of SBH Behavioral Health, “more specifically, how the mind can betray you.” Throughout her 20 years of experiences, she has worked in all areas of mental health service. Beginning her career in foster care and human services, she saw people dealing with disorders at every stage of their life, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. “It’s not the same as treating a physical disease where you can prescribe a pill and make the symptoms go away. This is a lifelong battle for people.”
La Shemah holds a Bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University. She first came to the Bronx as a social worker for Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center. There, she was immediately struck by the severe sense of loss experienced by her patients. “I witnessed a poverty of spirit,” she explains, “these were people who were consistently beaten down by the system and lacked the resources to help themselves.” Every emotion is elevated when a person has a mental illness. A feeling of sadness can feel 10 times greater and one can easily lose hope.
The diverse culture of the Bronx has contributed to the tight-knit communities established throughout the borough; it has also influenced how mental health is perceived. Many seek out herbal remedies in place of clinical care and put great faith in non-traditional healers from their country of origin. “It our job to recognize and respect their culture but also convey a sense of trust from our side,” she says, “We want both cultures to mesh.”
Being back in the Bronx feels like a homecoming for La Shemah. What attracted her to SBH was its holistic approach to mental healthcare. “We are in the lead when it comes to integrated care.” In her new role, she aims to establish a unified program that represents the mission and values of the organization