By Winnie Gaturu
In the black community, mental health is not an issue that’s commonly discussed. It is either treated as something that doesn’t exist or as white people problems. The result is that many black people suffer in silence or aren't aware that they have mental health issues, which can lead them to believe that they're making a big deal out of nothing. That’s what I used to tell myself too, a few years back. Now, I can see that what I was going through was not normal.
I was always tired, but couldn't sleep, and I'd spend most nights crying in an unfinished building next to our house. Other times, I'd spend the whole day indoors, hating to talk to people. However, I attributed these feelings to pregnancy, and what I believed all pregnant women went through.
I was wrong. Data from the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Healthy shows that an estimated 20% of the African American population is more likely to suffer from mental health conditions than the white population. It also shows that African American teens are more likely to attempt suicide than their white counterparts. Some of the major triggers of mental health conditions include homelessness, racism, economic disparities and prejudice. Common mental health conditions in the black community include post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide, major depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety. As a community, there are several things we can do to address mental health conditions. Here are 3.
Speak Up About It
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), many people in the African American community don’t talk about mental health conditions. This stems from a common misunderstanding that relates mental health with personal weakness, or punishment from God.
Jennifer Lewis: "The elevator to success is broken. Take the stairs:"Black celebrities are speaking up, among them Jennifer Lewis, Alicia Keys and Michelle Williams. Jennifer Lewis has undergone 10 years of medication and 17 years of therapy to help her manage bipolar disorder. She was diagnosed in 1990 although she says she knew something was extremely wrong even before then. Alicia Keys struggled with depression, acknowledging that she felt sad all the time and couldn’t shake off that feeling. Keys attributes her recovery to learning how to let go. Michelle Williams also opened up about her depression and suicidal thoughts when she was a member of Destiny’s Child, and has made it her goal to normalize the discussions about mental health.
Know Where To Find Mental Health Treatment
The good news is, there are many places you can seek help for mental health conditions. Since we all have access to the internet, you can start with a quick Google search to find a treatment center near you. The National Alliance On Mental Health (NAMI) is a great resource to finding treatment in your area, and you can also talk to your doctor. Although treatment can be expensive, the Affordable Care Act has made insurance coverage easier and more affordable. Joining a support group is also helpful so that you can surround yourself with people who understand what you're going through.
Support Those Suffering From Mental Health Conditions
There’s a lot we can do to support loved ones when they are suffering from a mental health condition. Some of the things that hold us back from doing so include the person refusing help, being too afraid to approach them, not having a better understanding of the condition and feeling that we can’t offer enough support. Although these may be valid concerns, there are simple things you can do to offer your support. Simply listen, ask your loved one what you can do to help them and support their healthy behaviors such as sleeping, exercising and eating healthy. You should also ask whether they are receiving help. If they aren’t, assist them in finding a mental health professional or support group they can visit. Knowing that there’s someone who cares will go a long way in helping them recover.
Are you open to talking about your mental health issues?