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November 9, 2013

Black Mental Health: You Better Ask Somebody

by James R. Yarbrough

Blacks‘ Mental Health

 (Though this is a reprint of an article first published in 2010 on Black American Web it is just as relevant today; if not more so.)

Note: The term African-American is used in this article it is the term the writer used. When speaking of my people I refer to us as Black.

At 19, Lydia Caesar, a preacher’s daughter, was depressed. She was young, unmarried and pregnant. She didn’t know who to talk with or what to do. “Depression is unheard of in the church. You can’t be saved. You can’t love the Lord and be depressed. That’s the stigma. And so many people in church are suffering.

Almost half of the African-Americans who need help with mental health issues don’t get it. “Blacks typically don’t seek help for mental illness because they don’t have familiarity with the process” according to Terrie Williams, founder of Stay Strong Foundation and author of “Black Pain.” We want to reach them while they are young,” Williams said.

“We think it’s a sign of weakness. We been raised not to tell our business, and we’re faith based. We think that to do anything other than pray about it is blasphemy. “So many are silent, but they are literally dying inside. “Mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are widespread in the U.S. and often misunderstood.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2008, there were an estimated 9.8 million adults aged 18 or older living with serious mental illness. Among adults, the prevalence of serious mental illness is highest in the 18 to 25 age group, yet this age group is also the least likely to receive services or counseling.

In 2008, 6 percent of African-Americans ages 18 to 25 had serious mental illness in the past year. Overall, only 58.7 percent of Americans with serious mental illness received care within the past 12 months, and the percentage of African-Americans receiving services is only 44.8 percent. “The disparities that African-Americans experience in accessing mental health care can be overcome through increased awareness and education,” said Kathryn A. Power, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. “Raising the African-American community’s understanding and attention to these issues will provide greater opportunities for recovery from mental health problems.”

Caesar, now 25, said she shut down during her depression. “I felt that I had let the church down. And that’s not a burden that any young person should have to carry at all. But I carried it. Alone. Alone, please, alone,” she said. “Once I reached out to my sister, it got a little better. Once I told my mother, it got a little better.”

Susan L. Taylor, founder of the National Cares Mentoring Movement and editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence magazine, knows what it’s like not to talk about depression. Taylor said her sadness and depression grew out of a hormonal shift through menopause and giving herself to a career before taking care of her own needs.

“I would leap out of the bed into the newspapers, into manuscripts, not gonna skip a beat for Essence. Everything for Essence. Me? I’m not even on the schedule,” Taylor said in her video. “I think that being able to talk about it is so liberating. Hiding sadness makes you more and more sad because it closes you off, you know. It closes you off from your healing. Giving voice to what you are feeling is part of the healing,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s personal story is also one of several included at samhsa.gov, a part of the campaign created pro bono by Grey Worldwide through the Ad Council. The campaign aims to promote acceptance of mental health problems within the African-American community by encouraging, educating and inspiring young adults to step up and talk openly about mental health problems.

Williams of Stay Strong Foundation says it is her personal mission to educate everyone, especially African-Americans, about depression and its impact on communities. “Every day, so many of us wear the mask of wellness that hides our pain from the world,” Williams said. “Now is the time to identify and name our pain, minus the myths and the stigmas, and seek the help so many of us need.”

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