A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

Tag Archives: Troubled Communities

African-Americans & The Myth of Mental Illness

This series on mental illness began with my story. I wasn’t sure of the approach that I would take for this post, but I’ve decided after very recent conversations to state (simply) why African-Americans should worry about Mental Illness.

Mental Illness? That’s a “White” thing!

This phrase is what started it all. By “it,” I’m not only speaking of this series but also why African-Americans are less likely to seek services that deal with behavior and cognitive issues. Given our history in this country, it isn’t difficult to understand the apprehension behind getting professional help (counseling or whatever). Historically, science was used by the “Majority” as a justification for the maltreatment of non-Whites. The study of evolution was used to justify the separation of racial/ethnic groups, as well as the subservient status of non-Whites (a theory known as Social Darwinism). Those who were associated with these theories were the leading voices in biology, eugenics, medicine, philosophy/psychology. Additionally, the United States has a notorious history behind using African-Americans for trial studies, health, and social experiments (see the relatively unknown Tuskegee Experiment; Human Experimentation in the US). This has led to a distrust of those outside of our community, as well as the thinking that what affects “them” can’t affect “us.” With respect to Mental Illness, this can’t be further from the truth.

Mental Illness Has a Look

Unfortunately, many of us seem to believe that you can look at someone and tell if they need psychiatric help. We believe that if you are well put-together (your hair, clothes, and shoes look nice), drive a nice car, live in a nice place, and have a job, then you are happy and have no problems.

 This can’t be further from the truth.

Mental health agencies (such as National Alliance on Mental Illness) acknowledge that as a group, African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to experience social circumstances that increase their chances of developing a mental illness (source). We need to be aware of the indicators and risk factors that lead to mental illness as it has been shown that a mental break can be a culmination of life experiences (sudden onset of a disease are often triggered by a major event but experiences increase susceptibility to disorders).

What does this mean?

Besides the obvious “any one of us can suffer,” it means that we need to be aware AND actively work to change the stigma. Some facts to be aware of:

  • 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.African Americans
  • Across a recent 15 year span, suicide rates increased 233% among African Americans aged 10 to 14 compared to 120% among Caucasian Americans in the same age group across the same span of time.
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  • African Amemicans comprise 40% of the homeless population and only 12% of the U.S. population. People experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of developing a mental illness.
  • Nearly half of all prisoners in the United States are African American. Prison inmates are at a high risk for developing mental illness.
  • Children in foster care and the child welfare system are more likely to develop mental illnesses. African American children comprise 45% of the public foster care population.
  • Exposure to violence increases the risk of developing a mental illness; over 25% of African American children exposed to violence meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

As a community, we need to move towards a mindset of acceptance and open communication. Rmember that mental illness exists and it can happen to anyone.

Until Further Notice…

…whatever I was writing about has been put on hold. Recent events that have taken place have been the push for writing this.

In the news today, I read a story about a young man named Derrion Albert. He was a high school student beaten by members of his community, who happened to belong to a gang. He died as a result of this (the event happened on Thursday). Now there are many issues that I have with this whole situation:

The first issue is that people in the community feel that they can’t live a life that is free from violence. People feel that it’s necessary to join a gang, or some group, for their safety and sanity. That scares me. Gangs promote violence and often operate with a mentality that is detrimental to a healthy and functioning larger community. Gangs, as we know them, promote fear and instability. No person should have to live through that and when communities are subjected to that, they suffer.

The second issue is that people feel they can’t tell. I know the reasons and the rationale behind why people choose not to. It’s understandable. Everyone doesn’t feel the way I do. I’d tell (I’ve done it before). There are some communities where some members enough grief, stress, and fear to the point that other community members just silently wish for better days and hope that their children are not caught in the crossfire.

But that’s not really what this post is about. No. This post is about the ignorance of people. On Twitter, I wrote a pulse and stated:

“There is especially one kind of person I don’t like in this world – one who CHOOSES to stay ignorant about the world around them.”

This wasn’t in reference to educational attainment (and I can see why some people may feel that way). No, this was about the people who live in communities where rage becomes the pulse of that place and dictates the actions of its members. The ignorant people I referred to are those who would readily tell someone to stop snitching or to hush someone else when asked if they’d heard about what happened to another person. These are the people who witness crimes, yet close their mouths and their minds when the police come to question. These are also the people who will offer their condolences to a family who is grieving over a family member lost in the violence.

I’ve taken this stance (and believe me, it’s not always easy to argue why a person needs to tell when they see wrong-doing) because of an experience I had when I was 10, almost 11. You never forget what it’s like to hear that a family member passed and their death was from the hands of someone else who wanted to play God for a moment (or make a point). You definitely don’t forget the image of the person who did it, if you witnessed it. You don’t forget how your Mother reacts to the news that her “only” son (who was actually her eldest child and was 16 years older than his next sibling) is gunned down because a “woman” was mad at him. You don’t forget the funeral. You don’t forget the condolences. You don’t forget the police. You don’t forget the depression. You don’t forget any of those things.

Most of all, the one thing that you don’t forget is that “life is not fair” or that he “was taken too soon.”

I remembered those lines from the wake. I remember how rigid my Mom became. I remember how cold the room suddenly felt. I remember wanting to scream and just ask the person how could they say that. A Mother lost her oldest child (a parent should never have to bury a child). Siblings lost their role model (he was our “Male” figure). Children lost a father (my nieces were young and I still see what this has done to them). A Wife lost her husband. I mean, I can go on and on about this…but I won’t. You all should get the picture.

But I think about all of that as I think about the family of Derrion Albert. I think about all of those things as I think about the community he lives in. I think about where I am now and I can only wonder if he dreamed of getting here. People don’t realize what happens when someone passes.

A void is left. A void that is unimaginable and may never be filled. Dreams are taken. Laughter is removed. A family is fragmented in the worst way.

My only hope, after all of this, is that something happens to restore the communities that Derrion Albert comes from to better places. Happiness needs to come back. Safety needs to come back. Peace, it definitely needs to come back. I just hope people take the necessary steps so that those things happen and another mother doesn’t lose a child to something so senseless.

This is an original work of Miss C. Jayne. © September 28, 2009.