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Angela L. Braden: Let’s Stop Stigmatizing Mental Health Issues in the Black Community

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By Angela L. Braden

We all know them: the uncle who sits on the porch and talks to himself; the cousin who was once outgoing and cheerful but is now introverted and sad; the well-adjusted bride whose moods now twist and contort since the birth of her first child; the father who is suicidal and has an explosive temper because he’s been unemployed for over a year; the silently depressed person who stares back at you in the mirror.

Although these scenarios are quite common in the African-American community, many African-Americans choose not to view mental illness as a real medical condition that can be disabling and even deadly. While it is indeed true that African-Americans are now accessing mental health services more than ever, many African-Americans still consider mental illness to be a condition that can be easily fixed with prayer, a good night’s rest, or swift discipline.

Unfortunately, this pervasive attitude regarding mental illness has led to African-Americans being strongly reluctant to access mental health services, often causing them to engage in behaviors that are destructive to themselves and to others. Mental illness is real. It is an invisible disability that has visible implications in a person’s life, and the best way to treat it is by accessing mental health services from a licensed professional. Talking to friends can be helpful. Going to the pastor for prayer may feel nice. But there are times when it is necessary to be evaluated and treated by an actual clinician, somebody who can speak directly to the function of the brain.

There’s no one way to treat mental illness. While one person will only need a series of counseling sessions to treat generalized anxiety disorder, another person experiencing paranoid schizophrenia may need a number of psychiatric medications to produce a healthy outcome. Sadly, because of the prickly stigma attached to mental illness, some individuals in the African-American community choose not to take prescribed medication or to access therapy, with the attempt to forego the risks of being viewed as “crazy” by their friends and loved ones. Often, individuals try to ignore their mental health issues, self-medicate with alcohol and street drugs, and/or isolate themselves from others.

This is why it is so important for family members and friends to be supportive, empathetic, and considerate. If you are experiencing mental illness, know that you are not alone. You do not have the devil in you, and you are not weak. You need a brain check-up and some follow-up with a licensed professional, just as you would with an ear infection or a broken arm. Get the help you deserve. Mental Health Awareness Week is October 6 – 12. To read more about mental illness, visit www.nami.org.

167 Comments

  1. Deborah

    October 10, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Stigmatizing mental illness is something that is sadly done across all communities, and causes real social harm. Great article.

  2. Amazing Grace

    October 10, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Necessary article. Need more African-American Psychologists and Psychoanalyst in the field.

  3. Duchess

    October 10, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Good article and very informative. I have a question. You cannot force an adult to seek help if you suspect mental illness. How do you breach the subject with a love one that you suspect is suffering but able to function. How do you even approach the subject to help?

    • janice mucker

      October 21, 2013 at 4:19 am

      to the person who asked how to get help for a person who has or is suspected of having a mental illness. you can’t. I have been trying to get help for a family member since June 2013 to no avail. She has lost custody of two of her children ( family member taking care of them) and husband left and took his child. The mental medical field has failed her miserably because they let her make decisions as to whether she gets help. She is a danger to herself and others, tried to commit suicide, physically abusive to husband ( he has left her)and one of the children. As long as she is free to go about her business with no intervention, she thinks everything is okay.EX: If you ran a red light and no officer stopped you to give you a citation, wouldn’t you think you were home free. The HIPPA law needs to be challenged , if concerned, involved people want to help the person with mental illness

  4. pat 111

    October 11, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    This article really touched my heart. African-Americans with mental health challenges need to be reminded again and again that it’s not their fault. In addition, from a sociological perspective, African Americans as a whole are still grappling with mental health issues from the profound effects of slavery. Remember, families and tribes were torn apart due to slavery. It takes many generations to heal from that alone.

  5. Vernon

    October 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    I really appreciate this article. We recently took our son to the doctor to find out he need meds for his condition. I told him I’m proud that he was willing to go and not just that, but take them. Him being only 22 years old I know it must have been hard on him. He said it had a lot to do with me and my wife’s support. Thanks for the post.

  6. Angela L. Braden

    October 15, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks for all the wonderful comments!!!!!!! Let’s continue to share with one another!!!!!!!

  7. struckbylighting

    January 30, 2014 at 8:34 am

    The brain like any other organ in the body is subject to illness. The brain happens to express it’s illness more visibly. Let’s take the time and show the compassion to those who are visibly showing their illness!!!

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