African Americans endure more intense and frequent mental and behavioral health issues than their counterparts, at least in part related to poverty and exposure to racism and discrimination, both of which disproportionately affect minorities.

African Americans share the same mental health issues as the rest of the population, with arguably even greater stressors due to racism, prejudice and economic disparities. Meanwhile, many wonder why African Americans shy away from “getting help” as a potential solution to challenges such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, marriage problems and parenting issues.

Mental health or mental illness is rarely discussed within the Black community. In the Black community, mental illness is thought of as a “white person’s disease,” nothing that affects Black people. But mental illness is not dependent upon race or gender. Mental health is extremely important for everyone. No matter their race, anyone may experience or deal with mental health issues. Without mental health, we cannot be healthy. Everyone experiences emotional ups and downs, including Black people.

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.

The stigma surrounding mental illness in the Black community is heavy as Black people feel as though choosing to seek professional help, such as a therapist, is a sign of weakness. The topic of mental health is largely absent from discourse in the Black community. It is not a topic that is talked about among friends or family given the stigma associated with mental illness in the Black community. In fact, some family members may even ridicule or make fun of an individual dealing with mental illness. As a result, individuals in the Black community choose to suffer in silence rather than telling anyone what they may be dealing with.

Psychologists say psycho-social factors, including socioeconomic status, poverty and crime in African-American communities, are one reason that Black people suffer more from mental illness vs. their white counterparts.

Here are a few things to consider as we address mental illness as a collective community:

• African Americans in the United States are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses than their Caucasian counterparts.

• Culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural understanding; only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African American.

• 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. The health care providers they seek may not be aware of this important aspect.

• Programs in African-American communities sponsored by respected institutions such as churches and local community groups can increase awareness of mental health issues and resources and decrease the related stigma.

For illnesses such as non-chronic depression, let’s compare it to someone with an ankle sprain. With the sprain, it’s momentarily devastating and sometimes debilitating, but within a period of days or weeks, with proper care, a person is back to feeling whole again and walking in normal stride.

For those with chronic mental illness, be it bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder or other illnesses, let’s look at it like someone with diabetes, another illness greatly affecting African Americans.

Without proper care and management of diabetes, it can kill. But with proper care, a person can live a long, productive and positive life. Of course, it’s no great joy to constantly stick one’s self and monitor one’s blood sugar and diet, but it’s a daily necessity to remain healthy. The same can be said for the treatments of the various mental diseases that afflict millions of African Americans — they may not be “fun,” but they can help to maintain a relatively healthy life.

But as with a sprained ankle, there’s no stigma attached to diabetes. No one says stay away from him or her because that person has diabetes. The same needs to be true about those suffering from mental illness.

Encourage people battling mental illness. Support them. Guide them to seek professional assistance. Let’s lose the stigma associated with those under psychiatric care. In fact, we should applaud them for getting the care they need.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

Listen to Glenn Ellis every Saturday at 9 a.m. on www.wurdradio.com and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. on www.wdasfm.com. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.