Unspoken truth of mental illness in the black community

Graphic by: Jordan Lodge | Production Manager

I’ll be the first to admit; I did not think poor mental health was a thing.

And there’s a simple explanation for it: I was never told that poor mental health was a thing.

Growing up, I was raised in the church. So whenever you were sad, would get mad for no reason or saw other children or adults acting out in the strangest of ways, you were told to pray about it. At the same time as “the feeling will pass, you’ll be fine.”

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to learn that that just simply isn’t true.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Services, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience major depression, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety than other races.

Factors of these statistics have proven to be exposure to violence, poverty and the lack of support systems in their homes and community.

Now I love numbers when trying to prove a fact-based point. So, let me throw some at you.

In 2014, according to the U.S. HHS Office of Minority Services, 13.2 percent of people or 45.7 million people in the United States identified as Black or African American. Of those 13.2 percent, more than 16 percent of those people had a diagnosable mental illness. That’s only seven million people!

With numbers this high and low, how is it that African Americans continue to suffer in silence?

As an African American, the first thing I can tell you is that barriers for seeking help with your mental health are misconceptions created by loss, socioeconomic status, lack of trust in people and feeling ashamed that you need help to make yourself feel better.

You may also feel like people in your community may judge you, it goes against your religion or faith to seek professional help or you may not have adequate health care coverage for the treatment you know that you need.

The stigmas surrounding the reality of mental health is a major roadblock for African Americans and I know this because I’ve been there.

The fact of the matter is that our community just doesn’t talk about it, citing all of the factors I listed above. But how long are we going to not address it? How many people will we let fall through the cracks of society because we wouldn’t take the time to help them process their feelings?

An example of this misguided assistance would be Kanye West. In November of 2007, West’s mother passed away suddenly due to complications from a cosmetic surgery. Some called it simply a freak accident but Kanye? Well, he called it devastation.

I watched as his personality began to change, his music got darker, album covers became so jumbled and confusing that I couldn’t understand their meaning, his violence with paparazzi and his misogyny was blunt and very much “in your face.”

He didn’t have any family outside of his mother, but with all of the celebrities surrounding him in the industry, no one noticed that his behavior became erratic? And that it seemed to worsen over time? I did.

A few weeks ago, the rapper reportedly had a psychotic breakdown after a show in San Jose, California where he ranted about his relationship with Jay-Z and his wife Beyoncé and after also talking about his political views.

I’ve paid attention to Kanye West only because of his crazy exploits in the media. And anyone with logical reasoning skills will agree that he hasn’t been the same since his mother died.

Kanye is quoted when asked about his mother following her death saying, “I don’t want to go too into it, it’ll make me emotional.”

That statement was from an interview only a few months ago. His mother died nine years ago. And if you follow his incidents, they all happen around the same time—his mother’s birthday and the anniversary of her death.

Failing to properly grieve is one of the key triggers or signs of poor mental health. I’m not a doctor and I’m in no way officially diagnosing Kanye West. But his family spent Thanksgiving in a psychiatric ward of a Los Angeles hospital, so I’m thinking I’m on the right track here.

My challenge to all African Americans is to not be so concerned with how needing help to overcome mental illness will make you look! At the end of the day, the only person you should be worried about is YOU.

As a young adult from an extremely impoverished city, it is very easy to get lost in your head and seem to not be able to find the exit.

The headline of this opinion editorial is for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Use it. Trust me when I say, it’s okay to not be okay. And it’s even more okay to seek help.