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Mental Illness Is Real and There Is No Need to Be Ashamed

Sending warm and cheerful greetings!

Hello there, my name is Shyla Thompson and I am so very excited to be here. I am the new Prevention VISTA. I work with the prevention team by evaluating and collecting resources in order to build the resource library. This is a new experience for me and I hope to make an outstanding contribution as a VISTA by helping my team as well my community. With my efforts, I hope to identify the best resources to decrease risk. I am interested in the research and learning more about various topics and resources.

Mental Illness is serious and it shouldn’t be taken lightly or ignored. There are plenty of people who suffer from it. Mental Health can be defined as a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. Mental Illness deals with a wide range of mental health conditions and disorders that affect mood, thinking, and behavior. Some examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors.

One of my interests is stigma and why there it surrounds mental health in Black Communities. Personally, I know that mental illness is not the topic of discussion for all families in my community. It seems that the thought of facing these issues and seeking help shows a sign of weakness. Truthfully speaking, not talking about something does more harm than it does good. If you can’t have the conversation, how can you get educated? More importantly, how can you receive help? You can’t!

The reality of it is this: having a mental illness doesn’t mean you are “soft” or weak. It doesn’t define YOU or your CHARACTER. Regardless of race/ethnicity, mental illness can become your reality. No one is exempt. In my community, there needs to be more awareness and advocacy around mental health. If you aren’t educated on something, chances are you won’t seek help.

Fear of others’ judgement is one thing that prevents individuals from seeking the treatment they need. Thinking that someone will call us crazy or not be supportive keeps us stagnant. I openly speak on this because I too have thought experiencing depression, or what feels like it, means that I am not strong. Being strong doesn’t mean you won’t experience things such as mental illness. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t be in tune with the one thing humans have in common—feelings.

Growing up, I didn’t talk about mental health with my family at all. In fact, two of my family members have depression, and one has even attempted suicide. The thought of that nearly broke my heart. You hear about suicide often, but you don’t often think it will happen to someone near and dear to you. Knowing that my close family member attempted suicide left me feeling really confused. These situations leave loved ones with a bunch of unanswered questions. I say all of that to say, we didn’t have these conversations until I was older. Maybe they thought I wouldn’t understand, or maybe they didn’t feel comfortable talking about it at the time. Whatever the case, silence isn’t always key.

Important Stats to Know

  • A study from Psychology Today in 2008 found that more than one-third of African-Americans actively seeking treatment believe talking about their anxiety would lead to them being called "crazy" by their peers. A quarter of those individuals felt they couldn’t talk about mental health with family.
  • According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Common mental health disorders among African Americans include: major depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), suicide among young African American men, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because African Americans are more likely to be victims of violent crime.

African Americans are also more likely to experience certain factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition:

  • Homelessness. People experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of developing a mental health condition. African Americans make up 40% of the homeless population.
  • Exposure to violence increases the risk of developing a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. African American children are more likely to be exposed to violence than other children.

Only about one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care. These are the reasons why:

  • Distrust and misdiagnosis. Historically, African Americans have been and continue to be negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the health care system. Misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment, and lack of cultural competence by health professionals cause distrust and prevent many African Americans from seeking or staying in treatment.
  • Socio-economic factors play a part too and can make treatment options less available. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2012, 19% of African Americans had no form of health insurance.

Another problem that arises is that there is provider bias and inequality of care. It can be unconscious or conscious bias from providers and lack of cultural competence resulting in misdiagnosis and poor quality of care for individuals of the black community. With that being said, it is important to find a provider that you feel comfortable with.

As shown above, mental health should be taken seriously. This is a judgement free zone. Don’t feel ashamed for having a medical condition. Silence is not golden. Talking about this can create a safe space for awareness and education. Remember, mental illness is more common than you think. It doesn’t equate to weakness! I’ll leave you with a quote.

"There should be absolutely no stigma around mental health. None. Zero. It's time to tell everyone who's dealing with a mental health issue that they're not alone, and that getting support and treatment isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength.” – Michelle Obama.

Resources

African American Mental Health. (n.d.). Retrieved June 09, 2017, from https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Diverse-Communities/African-American-Mental-Health

Clifton, D. (2015, October 25). 6 Important Facts Reveal Why Mental Health Is a Serious Issue for Black People. Retrieved June 09, 2017, from https://mic.com/articles/113030/6-actual-facts-show-why-mental-health-is-an-issue-in-the-black-community#.TFmsqsvlE