The elephant in the room: Mental health and color

“African-American Black people are not crazy!” Sounds familiar? It should. It is a sentiment that much uninformed Black people believe. The truth of the matter is that they couldn’t be furthest from the truth. Mental illness does not know color. It only knows people and it can attach itself to anyone at any given time. Point in case Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. Here is an educated man who seemingly on the outside appeared to be well however, his recent diagnosis says otherwise.

The American Psychiatric Association has a page dedicated specifically to the African-American community. Contrary to misguided belief, mental illness in African-American communities are similar to the that of the general population.  Just like their counterparts, most of them are functional in that they are able to keep up good mental health.  This does not negate the fact that these people who are mentally ill need treatment.

From a cultural perspective, mental illness is the elephant in the room that no wants to discuss and that is largely the problem. Failure to accept that this disease affects African-Americans is one of the reasons why there is a lack of culturally competent care. The ones who suffer in silence the most are African-American men who rarely if ever seek treatment for mental illness.  Dr. William Lawson in a recent interview stated, “Many African-Americans have a lot of negative feelings about, or not even aware of mental health services. They may not be aware of the symptoms of many mental disorders, or they may believe that to be mentally ill is a sign of weakness or a sign of a character fault” NPR. This statement could not be any more true as is evidenced by the fact that Rep. Jackson, Jr. took two months before he opened up to the world that he too was suffering from the silent disease…mental health.

No one knows why mental illness exist. One of my co-workers who is a psychiatric doctor shudders at the world crazy. Rather he believes that the mentally ill have a brain dysfunction. Being mentally ill does not make you stupid. In fact, there are a lot of intellectual geniuses who are considered be mentally ill. It has been said that Albert Einstein was mentally ill. Yet he was a genius.

As an African-American, one should not feel like they are weak for being mentally ill. It is said that knowing is half the battle. knowing that you have an illness puts you in a place to get the best treatment.  Know that you came from Kings and Queens and being mentally ill does not make you weak rather not dealing with the issue makes you weak. With proper treatment, you can be just as strong as those who don’t suffer from this disease.

Today’s Prescription: What will be will be. You can’t change it but you can learn to live with. In your quiet space repeat the Serenity Prayer to yourself and remember that you are not weak rather you are ill.

“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference.”

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