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May is Mental Health Awareness Month


Though the conversation around mental health is growing, we still have a lot of work to do to end the stigma around it. Life can be tough with or without rational explanation. One’s mind can oscillate between healthy and unhealthy thoughts, even uncontrollably.


While Black Americans experience a wide range of attitudes toward mental health treatment, there’s a stigma surrounding mental illness that prevents some people from getting help. It’s important to consider how the stigma—and the forces that create the stigma—may make it difficult for individuals to reach out to a mental health professional.


Some communities accept the idea that mental illnesses are health problems that require treatment. But in other communities, there’s a serious stigma that implies a mental health problem is a sign of weakness and should be kept hidden from others.

Beliefs about mental illness are formed through experience, cultural traditions, and formal education. Stories from friends and family also play a role.


If family members talk about a “crazy” uncle who had to get hospitalized, younger generations may grow to believe that having a mental illness means you can’t function in society.


Similarly, if someone who commits a crime is said to have a mental illness, it may perpetuate the belief that individuals with mental illness are violent. Anyone that commits a crime or displays some type of undesired “bad” behavior would be stigmatized as having a mental illness or along that spectrum, which isn’t necessarily true. These types of beliefs reinforce the idea that mental illness is shameful.


In my book The Color of HOPE: African American Mental Health in the Church, we explore some of the ideas about mental illness that may reinforce the stigma. The book is available for purchase on Amazon.com. There are many cultural factors, societal pressures, and stereotypes that may influence beliefs about mental health in the Black community.

Additionally, issues like systemic racism and the lack of culturally sensitive treatment by providers may also play a role in the way the Black community views mental illness and treatment. It is not normalized in the way that it should be. People often view it as a personal and/or moral defect. As a result, the mental health field is viewed along the same lines as the other systems that have caused substantial harm to Black people.


HELP IS AWAITING YOU

If you are experiencing a decline in your mental health or you suspect you may have symptoms of a mental illness, reach out to someone. You might start by talking to your doctor about treatment options.

If you suspect a loved one is experiencing a mental health issue, talk to them. Open conversations about mental health can help break down the stigma and encourage more people to seek help.


YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Asking for help is OK. Never think otherwise, despite your struggle. If you need help, mental health supports can be found here: Text HOME to 741741 to reach a Crisis Counselor.

How Does it Work? First, you are in a crisis. Crisis does not just mean thinking about ending your own life. It is any painful emotion and anytime you need support. So, text 741741.


Your opening message can say anything. Keywords like “HOME,” “START” and “HELLO”.

The first two responses are automated. They tell you that you are being connected with a Crisis Counselor and invite you to share a bit more.


The Crisis Counselor is a trained volunteer, not a professional. They can provide support, but not medical advice.

It usually takes less than five minutes to connect you with a Crisis Counselor. (It may take longer during high-traffic times). When you have reached a Crisis Counselor, they will introduce themselves, reflect on what you have said, and invite you to share at your own pace.


You will then text back and forth with the Crisis Counselor. You never have to share anything you do not want to.

The Crisis Counselor will help you sort through your feelings by asking questions, empathizing, and actively listening.

The conversation typically ends when you and the Crisis Counselor both feel comfortable deciding that you are in a “cool,” safe place.


After the conversation, you will receive an optional survey about your experience. This helps us help you and others like you!

The goal of any conversation is to get you to a calm, safe place. Sometimes that means providing you with a referral to further help, and sometimes it just means being there and listening. A conversation usually lasts anywhere from 15-45 minutes.



HELPFUL RESOURCES

These books may help reduce the mental health stigma among African Americans.

Some titles include: The Color of HOPE: African American Mental Health in the Church The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health: Navigate an Unequal System, Learn Tools for Emotional Wellness, and Get the Help you Deserve Community Mental Health Engagement with Racially Diverse Populations Mind Matters: A Resource Guide to Psychiatry for Black Communities (Volume 1) Black Mental Health: Patients, Providers, and Systems