BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Advocates used Black History Month to educate people about the challenges faced in their community, where fentanyl overdoses and suicides have increased faster than at any other time in U.S. history.

“The history of African Americans and mental health is complicated,” said Executive Director of Set Free Indeed, Tonja Myles.

Myles is a survivor of suicide, substance abuse, and childhood sexual trauma and has worked under the George W. Bush administration. She said there’s a growing problem within the community, and it’s spreading.

“People use for different reasons,” said Myles. “I always say from the curbside to the country club. You know, historically these numbers that we are seeing, we have never seen them in communities of color. There are more drug overdoses than homicides in East Baton Rouge Parish, and we have to address that.”

One person affected by losing a loved one to mental health is Tonja Myles’ Mentee, Saraa Abdullah.

Abdullah’s father, Maurenzo Smith, was murdered in July. Her father and a friend were sitting down inside a restaurant working on a podcast together. The friend’s husband came into the restaurant causing an altercation getting the police involved, and asking the husband to leave.

Once the cops left, the friend’s husband pulled back into the parking lot at the restaurant, killing Abdullah’s father.

The police returned for his murderer’s arrest, but he committed suicide. According to Abdullah, her father’s friend knew that her husband was dealing with mental health issues.

“She would post that, ‘Oh I knew he was suicidal,'” said Abdullah. “I knew that he had mental issues and he didn’t even know my father.”

Both Abdullah and Myles are working together to bring positive change to their community.

On Friday, they went to Capitol High doing healing circles for the students. Offering a safe place for the students to come forward with any issues.

Tonja is involved in a faith-based program and works at the Bridge Center of Hope, handing out fentanyl strips and Narcan to those fighting addiction.

Abdullah is a part of Myles’s program Set Free Indeed and even works with students at Southern University to offer them mental health support.

Abdullah continues to go back and forth about her dad’s passing last year. She said that her father was a professional boxer and always instilled in her to never stop fighting and to do the right thing by staying positive.

“I feel like that mindset, especially being instilled in me, helps me keep moving forward,” said Abdullah.

In April, Myles will be working with the East Baton Rouge Mayor’s Office to hold a Mental Health Symposium, inviting mental health leaders from across the globe to discuss mental health and suicide.

For those battling with mental health issues, you can call the 24-hour suicide and crisis hotline at 9-8-8.