THREE WAYS TO ELIMINATE THE STIMGA REGARDING MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS AMONG AFRICAN AMERICANS
Blacks are Dying Because of It
Please allow me to be open and honest. I am an African American male in my 40s, and I suffer from a mental health illness. I have depression, anxiety, and at one point in my life, I tried to commit suicide.
Instead of living in denial and denying myself from the proper medical treatment, I swallowed my pride and checked myself into a mental institution. I desperately needed help, and I wanted to live. I grew tired of always thinking of creative ways to kill myself. I concluded that suicide wasn’t the answer to solve my stress, lack of finances, and overall drama. The only cure was seeking out a therapist and getting the help that I need.
It blows my mind when I hear and read that there is a stigma among African Americans when it comes to mental health. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health issues than the general population. What’s more troubling is that African American youth who are exposed to violence are at a greater risk for PTSD by over 25%. The result is that only 33% of African Americans who need mental health care receive it.
Why have African Americans allowed this mental health stigma to run wild within the community? Are African Americans that prideful that they figure they do not need professional help? Do they think that they can solve the problem themselves because they are worried about what their peers or family members will think?
Something must be done!
I am tired of reading about stigma, this, or stigma that. How can we eliminate this stigma? How do we convince African Americans of all ages and all socioeconomic backgrounds, that it is okay to have a mental illness? Mental illness doesn’t care whether you live in the “hood” or some upper-middle-class neighborhood. It doesn’t care what kind of car you drive; how many likes you get on social media; and whether you wear Gucci or Ferragamo.
I have come up with some ways to be the solution. I want to eliminate this stigma once and for all.
Eliminating the Weak Label.
Many African Americans are very proud people. They have stories of perseverance and resilience. African Americans survived slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, police brutality, etc. The logic is quite simple, if blacks survived all of those horrific instances in the past and present, they could survive sadness or being lost. Humility must come into play to eliminate the weak label. Those that have mental illness need to be open about their struggles. They need to encourage those that live with this disease in secret. Attacking this mental illness out in the open could pave the way for those that secretly suffer.
Another reason that African Americans may not seek out therapy because they are worried about the therapist reporting what they discussed. Some limits of confidentiality bind therapists. The therapist will only break that confidentiality agreement if they think your life or someone else’s life is in danger. They are mandated to report abuse and neglect.
Lastly, when you are in therapy, you are free to talk about whatever you want to discuss. A therapist cannot make you talk about anything that you don’t feel comfortable discussing. If you had something traumatic in your life, you are free to stay silent about that until you feel comfortable discussing it.
Outreach to the Youth.
Another study conducted by the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health in 2017 showed that suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans ages 15 to 24. Also, African American females, grades 9-12, were 70 percent more likely to attempt suicide in 2017 as compared to non-Hispanic white females of the same age.
These troubling statistics are the reason why there needs to be programs and outreach done to educate the youth on mental health illnesses and suicide. The recent suicide of 17-year-old Bryce Gowdy should have been a wake-up call that there is a growing trend among black teenagers and suicide. Many African American youths, especially athletes, are put under immense pressure to be the savior for their families and get their families out of poverty. It is the pressure that no teenager should have to carry. The teenage years should be fun and happy times and not filled with anxiety and emotional distress.
The way this country targets teenagers about drinking and driving, texting and driving, or vaping, campaigns need to be launched about the danger of mental illness and to seek out help. Suicide is killing black children. They are no longer only dying from violence.
Need more Black Shrinks.
The American Psychological Association (APA) stated that in 2015, there were only 4 percent African American psychologists in the United States. If there were more African American therapists, counselors, etc., I believe that African Americans would be more likely to go seek out help. Many African Americans want somebody to talk to that can relate to their struggle. Having a face, the same color as theirs, is reassuring and would create a level of comfort. That black doctor may not be able to relate fully, but in the mind of the person seeking help, seeing a person of color is very comforting.
The lack of black therapists goes back to my previous point—youth outreach. We need to encourage more young African American males and females to pursue a career as a therapist. The more black shrinks there are, I believe that this rising crisis of suicide can be prevented or greatly reduced.
The problem with mental illness is that no tests can be done to see if one is depressed or has anxiety. Unlike being diagnosed with cancer or diabetes by a doctor, mental illness is self-diagnosed. In other words, the individual has to be the one to admit that he or she has a problem.
Mental illness is precisely what it is, an illness. The same way African Americans take medication for high blood pressure or diabetes; they should put mental illness in that same category. There is nothing wrong taking medicine for depression. You are not weak if you have a mental illness.
The definition of weak:
Not seeking out the help you need, killing yourself and destroying your loved ones!
Don’t be weak. Get help. Suicide is a liar!
Carlin Hertz deals with depression by taking his daily medicine and kicking ass on the mat as he loves Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is a suicide attempt survivor and has vowed to get the word out on mental illness.