Silence, stigma, discrimination and shame shroud many things in the Black community; particularly, mental health awareness. I know I like to handle things myself. After all, who knows you better than yourself? However, there is nothing like having an unbiased, open ear to the story of your life. There is power in utilizing the services of individual, couples, and family counseling. Some quick facts noted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health:
– The death rate from suicide for African American men almost four times that for African American women in 2009.
– African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites
Silence can be quite harmful to any individual or group. There are countless stories that have been revealed about women, men, boys, and girls who have experienced abuse, sexual assault, extreme depression, life threatening illnesses, and many other things that can often go unnoticed. Not addressing it can lead to even greater consequences. It doesn’t always have to end in death, but can also be a lifetime of pain.
There are also stigmas and discrimination attached to seeing a therapist or a counselor. Poverty is factor that can predispose someone to mental issues, but the “middle-class” and “upper-class” are not immune to the same experiences. No level of income will protect you from struggles that life throws at you. Most recently, Yusuf Neville, a graduate of Hampton University committed suicide. Many questions are asked, and few answers given in acts of suicide. The truth will always remain with those we lose. So we celebrate their life, but are reminded to always inquire with those we love and come into contact with.
It is hard being open and honest with others. Exposing your struggles and being vulnerable is never an easy task. It is necessary, because it empowers others to know that they are not facing their battles alone. There is no need to be ashamed of what you have been through, for it is your own personal experience. I do know there is freedom in changing your own narrative, because there are many people who have proven that through their own testimonies.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported, “African Americans tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though this may at times be necessary.” It’s great to have honest family and friends who can keep it real with you, but an unbiased opinion from someone who has professional experience dealing with mental health issues can be incredibly rewarding. It is reassuring to see change within your lifetime. For example, I am proud to be a member of an African-American Baptist church in Harlem, NYC that has a counselor on staff, offering their services for free.
In relationships, we often bring our own baggage, heartache, scars, and secrets. Take for example, a guy who, when in a relationship has other women on the side. Some may say he likes to have his cake and eat it too, but on a deeper level he could have issues with loneliness or abandonment. Woman after woman could label him as a dog, but it takes a concerned woman to recommend counseling. The follow through comes with the man actually committing to it, and realizing that the loneliness and abandonment issues may stem from the loss of his father at such a young age. We have to be available as family, friends, and partners to come from a place of love. Leave judgment to the court rooms. We have to listen twice as much as we speak and lead with compassion.
For more information, a great place to start is the National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov). State and local resources will vary, but they are available.
Has a therapist or counselor helped with your own relationships?