“Black people don’t commit suicide. That’s a white thing.”
Who said that? That is a false statement. Blacks suffer from mental illness just like their white counterparts. In fact, when you think of everyday stressors, systematic-racism such as police brutality, education and health care gaps, and sexism that impacts black women, blacks are more likely to be at risk for developing a mental condition.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and this is a perfect time to shed light on what many deem as nonexistent problem. Schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, dissociative identity disorder/multiple personality disorder, bulimia, ADHD, OCD and social anxiety are examples of mental illnesses that people battle daily. In the black community, many choose not to acknowledge mental illness as a sickness. Diseases such as diabetes and cancer are accepted as normal and natural, but what so many fail to realize is that blacks are no different than any other race when it comes to these illnesses. We are not exempt from mental illness.
While some experience mental illness only once in their life (depending on the illness, environment, life stressors, and genetics), others battle mental illness for the rest of their lives. Some of us think that we do not have a problem and truly believe that everyone else is the issue. Unfortunately, these myths and illusions force us to suffer in silence and not seek treatment. Mental illness affects “everyday functional” people and it is not limited to the homeless man talking to himself. It impacts a person’s emotions, perception, and behaviors.
As a person with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders, the comments said to me have been heartbreaking and mind-blowing because it prevented me from seeking help. I thought that I was making it up in my head even though I didn’t feel well for years. Finally diagnosed at 25, my doctor stated that the illness started around the age of 13. Can you imagine having cancer without being diagnosed for over 10 years? You would die. Well, I can tell you that I was dying on the inside and it led to multiple suicide attempts. My illness can get so debilitating. At one point, it stopped me from doing basic things such as going to work, talking, eating and showering.
Here are some of the myths that we must stop saying!
Myth #1: Only white people commit suicide.
Fact: According to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate of black children in between the ages of 5 and 11 doubled between 1993 and 2013 and the rate among white children committing suicide declined. Suicides by hanging nearly tripled among black boys. While whites still have highest suicide rates in the country, suicide rates among black youth have significantly grown over the past decade. Unfortunately, black youth are killing themselves more frequently than their elders. Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black people between the ages of 15 and 24 and a leading cause of death among school-aged children younger than 12 years in the United States.
Myth #2: Medication doesn’t work and/or they make you feel worse.
Fact: Medication is necessary for some individuals in their mental recovery. While they are NOT cures for mental illness, they are vital for treating the symptoms. Some may need medication for the rest of their lives (depending on the illness) and others only need it for a specific time. Nonetheless, medication is not a sign of weakness and it does not mean the person is crazy. It is no different from taking medication for high blood pressure or insulin for diabetes. Just like the body gets sick, the brain gets sick too, if you don’t take care of it. And no, this is not to say that everyone with a mental illness will need medication, but it is an invaluable help to many.
Myth #3: Black people don’t go to therapy.
Fact: Though there has been a deep-rooted stigma about seeking therapy, Blacks are increasingly seeking therapy for mental illness. Therapy is great whether you have a mental illness or not. Therapy helps you to work on yourself, dissect problems, face fears and overcome obstacles such as breakups, loss of a loved one, financial challenges, self-image issues, abuse, etc. As mentioned previously, blacks deal with oppression daily and therapy can help us work through it. Those who are still hesitant to try therapy can look into other ways of getting help. The support of a life coach has also been shown to be beneficial for many.
Myth #4: You can pray it away.
Fact: As a Christian, I have seen God perform miracles in my life. But when you say to a person “just pray,” you are assuming that they are not praying and dismissing how they feel, challenging the sincerity of their faith, and most likely preventing them from getting treatment. You would not say “just pray” to a person who broke a leg. You would tell them to go to the doctor for an x-ray and cast. We must treat mental illness the same. God also gives us resources to use on earth and sometimes that may be therapy and medication when a person is battling a mental illness.
Damian Waters is a marriage and family therapist in Upper Marlboro, MD, where he serves predominantly African American clients. On the issue of the stigma surrounding blacks seeking therapy, he says, “There’s some shame and embarrassment. You’ll tell someone that you went to the doctor, but you won’t tell that you went to the counselor or psychiatrist. Also, there is the idea that their faith should carry them through, though often their problems are larger than that.”
As a way to honor those with mental illness, please think before you speak, and encourage those who need help to seek treatment. Mental illness is just as serious as any other disease and those affected by it should not be judged or outcast. Mental illness is a flaw in brain chemistry, not a character flaw, or a white people problem.
Can you think of other myths surrounding Blacks and mental illness? Share them below along with your thoughts on putting the myths to rest once and for all.
Jekalyn Carr is a force to be reckoned with.
Known for her chart-topping single Greater Is Coming, Carr is also a Grammy-nominated and Stellar Award-winning gospel artist, minister, and songwriter who unapologetically proclaims her love for Christ. She walks boldly and proudly in her calling and encourages others to do the same.
Carr began singing at the tender age of 5 and was called to preach at 13. In a short amount of time, Carr has garnered both national and international reach: a Billboard No. 1 Top Gospel Album (The Life Project) and No. 1 on the Billboard Gospel Airplay chart and No. 1 on the Gospel Digital Song chart for You’re Bigger. The song also peaked at No. 33 on the Adult R&B Radio Airplay chart. Her audience rapidly grew, landing her collaborations with gospel legends Shirley Caesar and Dorothy Norwood and performances on BET’s Joyful Noise and TV One’s Triumph Awards. Recognized by Jet magazine as “One of the Top Ten Faces You Need to Know” and included in Ebony’s Power 100 of the most influential people, she is well beyond her years and a true inspiration for today’s youth.
Her new single, You Will Win, is available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. Her words of wisdom remind us that with God and positive people in our life all things are truly possible.
Urban Faith: How is your upcoming album different from your other projects?
Jekalyn Carr: With each assignment God gives us we should go from faith to faith and glory to glory, and this album is full of inspiration. I’m excited for the people of God to be changed and inspired.
Urban Faith: How have your parents inspired your career?
Jekalyn Carr: My ministry is built on my relationship with Jesus and my parents made sure that they protected my gift. They made sure to surround me with people who instill me with values that push me into my destiny.
Urban Faith: Adding author and actress to your already amazing accomplishments, at 20 years old are you excited to share your forthcoming book You Will Win and new album One Nation Under God? When will your book and album be released?
Jekalyn Carr: In January 2018, my book and album will be released. I share tips on how to win. At the end of the day, we are declaring it and speaking it but we must also be thinking like a winner, talking like a winner, and connected to winners. You can’t say you want to win and you are connected to people who look defeated or are defeated. You have to make sure you connect to people who have overcome. Whatever giant you face in your life, this book will help you. It is time for the people of God to take our victory title back. It’s time for us to declare our true identity and that’s a champion.
Urban Faith: Can you talk about your involvement in the OWN TV show Greenleaf?
Jekalyn Carr: Yes, I had a lot of fun and was blessed for the opportunity. My episode premiered on September 6. My Dad also produced a song entitled Hold Me Close and it is now available on the Greenleaf soundtrack.
Urban Faith: When you think of the word “success,” what comes to mind?
Jekalyn Carr: When I think of the word “success,” I do not simply minister because I have the skillset to, but I want to see people prosper and see the fruit behind my labor by hearing how blessed people are through testimonies. That is my definition of success.
Urban Faith: How do you prepare for your day with having a busy schedule?
Jeklayn Carr: With a busy schedule, I start my morning by prayer and declaring positivity over my day.
Urban Faith: In the pursuit of our calling, sometimes we find ourselves drained because we lack balance. How do you find time to find time to take care of yourself and what do you like to do for fun?
Jekalyn Carr: I take time to have fun and relax. I enjoy going to the movies, hanging out with family, getting my hair and nails done.
Urban Faith: What advice would you give to anyone who hasn’t discovered their purpose or is afraid to step out on faith?
Jekalyn Carr: There is a reason God has equipped you with your gift. There are people who are in need of your gift. That’s why it important to step out and do what God has designed you to do. You will find that as long as you are operating outside of your purpose, you are just functioning. When you operate in purpose, you will prosper and want people to be transformed because of your gift. Whether your gift is a preacher, a doctor, a teacher or athlete, you can’t afford to sit down on what God has placed on the inside of you. Ask God for the strength to allow your gift to be activated but also ask for boldness so you can walk into it and be successful in it.
To learn more about Jekalyn Carr, visit her website www.myjekalyncarr.net or connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Finally! The wait is almost over.
Many of us were disappointed last spring when we discovered “Greenleaf” was not returning for three months. However, the OWN series’ two-night, mid-season premiere finally begins August 15 at 10 p.m. ET. “Greenleaf” was also renewed for season three, according to Variety and Deadline.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’d like to give you a brief recap on what you’ve been missing. (Caution: Spoilers ahead, for those of you who’d like to watch the previous episodes ahead of next week’s premiere.)
“Greenleaf” tells the story of an affluent Black family led by the bishop of the fictional Memphis mega church Calvary, but viewers soon learn that this Christian family is anything but perfect. Members of the Greenleaf family include Bishop Greenleaf, Lady Mae Greenleaf, their four children Grace, Charity, Faith (deceased), Jacob, and grandchildren.
So far, Season 1 and the first half of Season 2 have provided viewers with a front-row seat to the lies told by the Greenleaf clan and allies to cover up sexual and emotional abuse, infidelity, and corruption.
During Season 1, Grace finds her way back to her home and church in Memphis after avoiding both her family and the spiritual call to be a leader in the church for years. Viewers have witnessed Grace’s journey in serving as a catalyst for seeking justice on behalf of her sister Faith who was molested by their Uncle Mac and commits suicide as a result of the trauma. And, as the first season continues to unfold, viewers learn that there are, in fact, other girls who experience the same trauma at the hands of Uncle Mac.
The Greenleafs’ son Jacob and his wife Kerissa are working on their strained marriage after Jacob’s affair in Season 1. He also fights to be heard and becomes frustrated with being overlooked by his family.
To add fuel to the fire, Jacob makes the decision to leave Calvary to become an associate pastor at his family’s competition church Triumph, but he soon discovers the lead pastor, Basie Skanks, has a gambling problem and uses Triumph’s money to fund his habit.
Jacob hides the “church meetings” (aka poker games) from his wife but she is not completely clueless. Nonetheless, Jacob is not pleased with the way Basie handles his church affairs and does not want to be associated with the pastor. So, Jacob offers to pay off the debt of Triumph’s second location, in exchange for him becoming the senior pastor of the church, with no connection with Basie and the original Triumph location.
On the other hand, Charity, the Greenleaf’s third daughter, is working on her music career, gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, and her husband Kevin opened up about being attracted to men. Even after Kevin decides to go to counseling and work through his issues in order for their marriage to move forward, Charity files for divorce.
After Charity receives a call from her music producer to travel out of town and record music with a group, she asks her ex-husband to watch their son. However, once Kevin finds himself alone with the family’s attorney, Aaron, whom he finds attractive. By the way, Charity is also attracted to her music producer.
The Greenleaf family often tries to sweep issues under the rug but the fire continues to grow and we all want answers. Will Charity date her music producer? Will Kevin date Aaron? Will Grace find justice and finally have Uncle Mac put in jail? Will Jacob get Triumph 2?
“Greenleaf” does an excellent job at highlighting the challenges that face a pastor and his family, and sheds lights on issues in the black church such as homosexuality and mental illness.
And, although many of these issues are embellished a bit for the sake of television, it is important for Christians to realize that even ministry leaders are not exempt from trials and tribulations any more than their members. I suppose we’ll all have to stay tuned to see what’s in store for Calvary and the Greenleaf clan.
I remember repeatedly telling my friends I did not want to go to the psychiatric hospital for months.
I was terrified and I did not want to be labeled as “crazy.” Every time someone asked if they should call the police, I said “no.” Who would?
After attempting suicide, I found myself in the emergency room being evaluated by a psychiatrist, and he told me I had two choices: voluntarily or involuntarily check in, where I would then be forced to check in to inpatient. I decided to go so I could have more control over the process.
I was dehydrated and, to say the least I was mentally on another planet. Everything seemed like a blur.
I was asked to remove my clothing and valuables and change into scrubs, and to place everything into a plastic bag. It was around 1 p.m., and after almost nine hours (seemed like forever), I got into a wheelchair and a nurse pushed me into the elevator and brought me to the top level of the hospital (4th floor).As I went through the double doors that were locked from both the inside and outside, I saw patients in a common area watching TV.
I was then brought to a room with one of the medical assistants and he took my vitals. And, as I began to process what was happening to me, I cried like a baby. I thought to myself, “What did I sign up for?”
I was escorted to my room, asked the nurse to leave the light on and the door open, and then I cried myself to sleep. The next morning when I got up, I noticed the blue walls, a door that led to a toilet, a sink, a locked window with no view and my roommate sleeping. I did not eat or leave my room because I was scared.
I’ve never been so scared in my life. All I could think about was the psychiatric units in the movies. I thought someone was going to attack me. There were check-ins every 15 minutes by the staff, and you are assigned a social worker, nurse and psychiatrist. You get three meals each day and a snack. You have to ask to take a shower and wash your clothes. I said to myself, “I must be dreaming or I am in jail.”
My social worker suggested I go into the day room and participate in therapy. At this point, I was willing to try anything because I wanted to go home. And to my surprise, it was nothing like the movies.
I walked into a therapy session of emotional bingo. As I listened to the patients talk, I shared their hurt and pain. They shared stories of abuse, grief and untreated childhood traumas.
I decided to go to another session later in the day — music therapy. We listened to music and did arts and crafts, and even though I felt out of place in the unit, it was so relaxing.I met entrepreneurs, overworked-mothers, people with college degrees and a former police officer; people like me and you.
The movies do not show you the psychiatric unit can be a calm and peaceful place. Where I was, it allowed people with mental illness to become stable and begin to work on his or her issues through medication, therapy, writing, reading and resting. The staff was kind, and really wanted to see me succeed.
During my stay, I made amazing connections and started new friendships. It is a great feeling when you meet someone who identifies with you, and does not judge you. My old medication stopped working so I was given new medication, and within a few hours my suicidal thoughts stopped. I took an active roll in creating my treatment plan in order to have an effective recovery process.
After I was discharged, I was placed in a partial hospitalization; I stayed at the hospital for six hours, five days a week, but I was able to go home. I thought I did not belong. I have a master’s degree, I started my own company and two organizations, I have people who look up to me and love me, I have my own apartment, and I drive my own car. Mental illness has nothing to do with your educational, professional or socio-economic background; sometimes it is genetic or simply life, or maybe a combination of the two.
As the conversation of mental health and illness gradually comes to the forefront of national attention, the month of May is the perfect time to raise awareness. For some reason, we tend to stigmatize mental illness and do not see it as a “real” or life-threatening illness like cancer, AIDS, or diabetes. Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, social anxiety, and schizophrenia are not made up or less important than any other disease.
In fact, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million (about 18%)—experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and unfortunately, we perceive people with a mental illness as just “crazy.”
However, what we fail to realize is that people with mental illness are more than the individuals walking down the street talking to themselves; mental illness affects everyday, functional people, and even celebrities.
In fact, the thought of a celebrity battling a mental illness might seem far-fetched for some. We tend to believe celebrities are unstoppable and perfect because they have money, power, and fame. We judge celebrities from the outside looking in and do not see them when the cameras are off and they too have to manage their emotions, thoughts, and illnesses like the average person.
Jenifer Lewis encourages others who suffer from mental illness to love themselves. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.
We love to see the hilarious, sassy, and powerful characters that Jenifer Lewis portrays in movies and shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Think Like A Man, and Black-ish. But after hiding her 17-year battle with bipolar disorder and 10 years of being on medication, Lewis spoke about her mental illness on Exhale TV.
“What it is, is that you want to do it without the meds,” Lewis says. “You want to get off and say, ‘I’m healthy. I got wheat-grass and I am eating good. I can do this on my own,’ and then you throw the meds away. Don’t do that.”
Lewis also stated that her illness was triggered by the death of her father, but she encouraged people to love themselves.
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but a combination of genetics, environment, and altered brain structure and chemistry can play a role. Bipolar disorder is an episode of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.
Manic episodes might include symptoms such as high energy, reduced need for sleep, and loss of connection to reality. Symptoms of depressive episodes might include low energy, low motivation, and loss of interest in daily activities. Mood episodes last days to months at a time and might also be associated with suicidal thoughts.
Disney Channel superstar, actress, and singer Selena Gomez struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression disorders in addition to dealing with lupus.
Panic disorder is an urge of overwhelming fear and anxiety. Your heart pounds and you can’t breathe. You might even feel like you’re dying or going crazy. If left untreated, panic attacks can lead to panic disorder and other problems, according to helpguide.org.
Depression and anxiety disorders are different, but people with depression often experience symptoms similar to those of an anxiety disorder, such as nervousness, irritability, and problems sleeping and concentrating. But each disorder has its own causes and its own emotional and behavioral symptoms.
During her speech at the American Music Awards, Gomez talks about her personal struggle with anxiety and depression.
Disney Star Selena Gomez is one of many celebrities who suffer from depression and anxiety. Photo courtesy of Pinterest
“I had to stop. Cause I had everything, and I was absolutely broken inside,” Gomez confesses. “And I kept it all together enough to where I would never let you down, but I kept it too much together, to where I let myself down. I don’t want to see your bodies on Instagram, I want to see what’s in here [puts a hand on heart]. I’m not trying to get validation, nor do I need it anymore.”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, many people who develop depression have a history of an anxiety disorder earlier in life. There is no evidence that one disorder causes the other, but clear evidence suggests that many people suffer from both disorders.
The lesson that we learn as children—don’t judge a book by its cover—is necessary when we look at people, celebrities included, with mental illness. It is important to think before you speak, learn about mental illness, and offer compassion for those who deal with these illnesses.
No amount of money, power, or fame can make you happy or protect you from a mental illness. But what we can also learn from this is that people with mental illness are not alone, and most do not allow their illness to stop them from living and achieving their dreams.
If you are feeling suicidal, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are depressed, struggling mentally, or know someone who is, visit National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America to find a therapist in your community as well as other resources.