Minority Mental Health Awareness

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In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Resolution declaring July as Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. On this last day of July 2010, I pondered whether to post this salute to Mental Wellness in the African American and other minority communities. Then I said to myself, “It is not August yet.”
This designation of MMHA Month is recognition at the national level that there is a need for systematic, directed, and focused efforts in minority communities to promote mental health awareness. The desired outcomes include increased awareness and recognition of the symptoms of mental illnesses which are biologically based brain disorders. There is a difference between "knowing about" and "knowing". I know.

This is an opportunity to:
 Advocate for more culturally competent, accessible and affordable treatment
 Reduced stigma within these communities
 Enhance support for minorities living with mental illness and for their families
 Educate and empower minority individuals, families and communities with the knowledge and understanding that recovery is possible

As one who lives with chronic depression, one who has relatives with a mental illness, and one who is both a community educator and advocate for mental wellness, my understanding goes beyond that of intellectual curiosity. As an African American woman, I choose not to be silent on this issue.  It has become my passion.

In May, National Mental Health Month, an important article appeared in the monthly issue of Black Enterprise magazine. Denise Campbell penned an article about depression among African Americans. "The Walking Wounded" makes the link between health and wealth in the African American community. I know.

I left three executive/management jobs because employment at that level was detrimental to my health. Reduced income from unemployment was magnified by the costs of treatment - medication, therapy and surgery for the somatic manifestations of the mental dis-ease. Then there were the costs of complementary treatments which are not covered by health insurance.

In the summer 2010 issue of Real Health, Andrea King reports the story of a mother who sought support while coping with a son whose increasing encounters with the criminal justice system eventually were attributed to behavioral manifestations of bipolar disorder. What a discovery, never imagined, says the mother. The responses from family and friends were not supportive. She and her son were now victims of stigma, triggering depression for the mother. I know.

I, too, experienced the pain of isolation, ignorance and misunderstanding from those in whose circle I belonged... used to belong. Not being able to hide, shield or to protect my loved ones from gossip, whispers, and malicious deeds rooted in stigma hurt. Like Jacquelynne Borden-Conyers, I sought and found support and education. In my case, the vehicle was the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

There are many myths about mental illnesses. In the African American community, mental illness may be viewed as a curse or as evidence of demonic possession. Such views hinder awareness, treatment and recovery. Reluctance to seek or accept treatment may look like stoicism, prayer ... nothing but prayer, or even denial. By themselves, these responses are not effective treatments. I know.

At some level, I believed the myths. I “sucked it up”, prayed without ceasing, “fell out” in the church, and denied there was a problem – with me or my family members. I contemplated, disassociated from my environment and sometimes from reality, became emotionally absent, contemplated homicide, and had suicidal ideations. I have refused and forgotten to take my medications.

Mental illnesses differ. Early and proper diagnoses are critical and can be life-saving. Treatment varies based on the nature of the illness and the individual’s condition and circumstances. But, in many instances, recovery is possible. I know.

I have never waited in an emergency room for a “psych evaluation”. Nor have I been admitted to a psychiatric ward or hospital. Not Yet. I embrace a holistic approach to wellness - body, mind and spirit. These are my “steps to wellness”.

 I practice yoga, visit a fitness center at least 4 times a week; and I am on the path to a more healthy way of eating.
 I pray, read the Bible and listen to inspirational tapes.
 I attend family and individual support groups when unduly distressed, and I support my peers when I have the opportunity.
 I keep my scheduled therapy appointments and I faithfully take my medications.
 I journal, I sing, I dance, and I hug my family and friends often.
 I educate, advocate, and share my story.

See the following books, articles, and a favorite blog by African American women who have written about mental illness. You will find spirituality as a part of each telling.
72-Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell
Power Walking, a Journey to Wholeness by Maxine B. Cunningham
Black Pain, It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting by Terrie M. Williams
Willow Weep for Me, A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nan-Ama Danquah
Something Like Beautiful, One Single Mother’s Story by asha bandele
Saving Our Last Nerve, The Black Woman’s Path to Mental Health by Marilyn Martin, M.D., M.P.H.
Broken Silence, Opening Your heart and Mind to Therapy – A Black Woman’s Recovery Guide by D. Kim Singleton, Ed. D.
Beautiful Mind Blog by Rev. Monica A. Coleman, Ph.D. www.monicaacoleman.com/blog

Let us step to wellness.  Be Well.

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