Mental Health in the African American Community

Growing up, Mental Health was not a topic of discussion and when it was identified, the church was the only intervention that was available. Our children deal with issues of colorism, bullying and low self-esteem. We are told that we are not good enough, smart enough or qualified enough to make a meaningful impact to the community. As a result of the negative messaging, we are left feeling disconnected, anxious, depressed and ultimately hopeless. Drugs and alcohol become coping skills and destructive behaviors lead to incarceration, limited education and death either by law enforcement or by our own hands. For our black men, mental illness is perceived as being weak and contributable to the violence of the community. This pattern has not improved and the medias’ perception continues to perpetuate the stigma associated with mental illness.

We are losing our babies through untreated maternal mental illness, our young people to unaddressed suicidal ideations and everyone else through lack of awareness about mental health. The time is now to address mental health issues in our communities and it can start with just a conversation. A conversation in our homes, faith base organizations, schools, workplaces and communities regarding whole health inclusive of the brain. Mental illness is not a weakness rather an illness like hypertension, diabetes, asthma however it is often treated as a “separate thing”. It is a chemical imbalance within the brain that may be developed through traumatic situations, genetics and/or environmental changes beginning as early as infancy. For instance, poor stimulation of an infant can lead to developmental delays causing the brain to adapt that may increase anxiety, depression, nightmares or suicidal ideations.

Taking the time to learn more about mental illness and mental wellness is the first step but it is also important that we address and treat mental illness. Historically we have turned to the church for intercession but it is time to acknowledge that we also need interventions. We pray about our heart condition but we also visits with our cardiologist therefore while praying about depression also meet with your psychologist. Connect with someone who does not minimize or criticize your symptoms but rather guide you towards recovery. Recover is not only possible it is evident all around us. Take the time to learn more about mental health and wellness to work toward better solutions in our communities. It is very important to note that mental illness does not discriminate so although it appears I have a particular population in mind, please understand that it does not matter the color of your skin or the amount of money in your pocket, mental health impacts everyone.