“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.
(RNS) — Since the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, many communities of faith have supported millions of people living with HIV and kept future generations free from HIV through their prevention efforts.
Their engagement on the front lines of health, especially in the Global South, predates that of many health organizations. Churches have built countless hospitals and clinics; faith leaders, including women, were among the first responders to HIV.
Today, communities from all faith traditions are engaged in the HIV response. Their continued leadership in ensuring respect for human dignity, justice and rights is critical.
As the world accelerates its efforts to end AIDS, faith communities remain central to our success.
Communities of faith offer a path to many who are hard to reach. Their mission to deliver compassion and care to all in need, including the world’s poorest and those shunned by society, has deepened and broadened the impact of the global response to AIDS.
That special openness has never been more important than today, when ending AIDS requires reaching all who are living with, or who are at risk for contracting, HIV.
I appreciated anew the critical role of the faith community in ending AIDS earlier this month when I was in Addis Ababa for the 29th African Union Summit.
During the meeting, African heads of state recommitted to reaching more people in need, more quickly. Faith leaders and their congregations will play a critical role in these efforts. Across Africa we are “fast-tracking” our efforts.
This includes efforts to revitalize HIV prevention, especially among adolescent girls and young women; consolidate progress on elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; accelerate implementation of HIV testing and treatment for men; and address financial sustainability for the AIDS response. The church has an important role to play in each of these goals.
This plan is based on the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) “Fast-Track” approach, which demonstrates that if we front-load resources and apply our efforts to the people and places where the need is greatest, by 2020 we can expand prevention and treatment and put the world on course to end AIDS by 2030.
“Fast-Track” modeling shows that using tools and knowledge we have, we could avert an additional 17.6 million new HIV infections and 10.8 million AIDS-related deaths.
Enormous progress has been made in the global response to HIV. Of the 37 million people living with the virus, more than 18 million are receiving treatment.
But another 18 million men, women and children living with HIV aren’t getting it. Millions more need tailored, age-specific HIV prevention services that embrace the UNAIDS life-cycle approach of ensuring that children are born HIV-free, that they stay HIV-free through their adolescent and adult lives and that lifesaving HIV treatment is available to all living with HIV.
To reach this goal, we must call for global solidarity to quicken the pace of our outreach, in which the faith community must play a leading role.
Whether speaking about AIDS, maternal and child health, vaccines, sanitation, nutrition, family planning or other critical lifesaving issues, church elders are powerful educators. The respect and trust they engender allow them to address sensitive issues in ways that make their congregations comfortable and better able to protect themselves.
Faith leaders can be especially effective talking to young people by encouraging messages of inclusion for all, even the most marginalized. Such talk should be underpinned by scientific evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Reaching this next generation is paramount, given that the largest cohort of young people ever is about to come of age in Africa.
Today in sub-Saharan Africa, young women and girls are eight times more likely to contract HIV than their male peers. Young people rarely visit health centers; educating and protecting them before they are exposed to HIV is essential for ending AIDS.
Faith leaders also have a unique role in reaching men and boys, two groups that rarely intersect traditional health systems unless they have a health emergency. Too many men and boys don’t know their HIV status and aren’t accessing prevention or treatment services. We won’t reach them in the clinics, but we will reach them in their houses of worship.
In addition, faith-based organizations can be particularly effective at reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination. In so doing, they make it easier for all people to come forward for services, stay on treatment — and stay healthy. The church’s holistic approach delivers both healing and hope to individuals affected and infected with HIV.
Faith-led, family-centered care clinics teach not just the person living with HIV but also the person’s extended family. By helping those closest to a person living with HIV understand the disease, including the reality that treatment leads to viral suppression, which prevents transmission, faith leaders increase the odds that people with HIV will have the emotional support they need to stay healthy. Caring for and supporting the whole family also means spouses and children remain HIV-free.
Healthy adults can raise healthy children. With families intact, fewer children are orphaned. When communities are protected, nations become stronger, more peaceful and more secure.
The opportunity to end AIDS is within our reach. But getting to the finish line will only be possible with communities of faith working together and continuing their long-standing commitment to compassionate care and service.
(Michel Sidibé is executive director of UNAIDS)
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.
Dealing with a mental illness is never easy but with the proper strategies and tools, you can learn to manage your mental health while living a happy life.
Self-care is the root for coping with mental illness. I never understood the meaning of self-care until I was hospitalized. It sounds simple to take care of yourself but you would be surprised by how many people neglect self-care.
Many of us tend to take care of everyone else without realizing that we are more valuable and effective if we take the time to give ourselves some TLC. 3 John 1:2 says “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.”
God desires for us to be healthy. But, how can He dwell within in us if we aren’t healthy in our mind, body, and spirit?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults in the United States. It is also common for individuals with depression to have an anxiety disorder or vice versa. In fact, 6.7 percent of the United States population has major depressive disorder (MDD).
However, the good news is that 80 percent of those treated for depression and anxiety show improvement in their symptoms within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments. In addition to clinical treatment, there are a variety of coping mechanisms that help manage your symptoms.
Feeding your spirit can include praying and/or reading your Word. However, we, as Christians, may also want to consider opening our minds to additional coping strategies that will impact one’s spirit, body, and mind.
I have been in therapy for a year and a half, and it has been a long process but I am reaping the benefits for sticking it out. Find a therapist that you like and feel comfortable talking to. Therapy offers personal insight, empowerment, coping strategies, prevention of future illness distress, and someone to talk to without judgment. I was hesitant in the beginning because I thought to myself “I am not crazy. I do not need therapy.” However, I am glad I put my fear aside and gave it a try. While you can talk to a friend, family member or pastor, I recommend that you speak with a person who has a background in mental illness.
2. Balanced Diet
It is not rocket science but the foods we eat impact our illness. If your mental illness is a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder, it is important to be conscious of how food affects you. I have noticed when I consume an obsessive amount of comfort foods such as ice-cream and cookies, I feel worse. Here is the problem with overeating; it decreases your energy because your body must work harder to break down the food. Not to mention, overeating can lead to being overweight. A balanced diet helps with concentration and energy levels. According to Everyday Health, foods such as turkey, walnuts, fatty fish, whole grains and green tea help with depression.
You do not have to go to the gym every day if that is not your thing but you can take a walk, attend a dance class, play sports or play with children. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals , such as endorphins. Endorphins, also known as the feel-good chemical, interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. Exercise also helps to alleviate stress, improve self-esteem, and sleep.
4. Create a support group
It can be frustrating when you have a mental illness and no one understands you and/or judges you. Finding the right support team is important. This may include a life-coach, therapist and/or psychiatrist, significant other, family or friends. Each individual should help in some way by meeting a need or needs. If the relationship is not healthy then you may want to consider removing them completely from your life. You should be able to share with your support group whether you are having a good or bad day. When you struggle with a mental illness, every day will not be sunshine and rainbows, and that is okay.
5. Listening to nature sounds
Before I go to sleep, I play sounds of waves as it helps to relax my mind and body. I enjoy hearing the sounds of waves, raindrops, and waterfalls. When most of us take vacations, we tend to go to the beach, tropical islands or lakes to relax and rejuvenate. So, it makes sense that the sound of nature such as birds chirping and waves help many relax, specifically, the sound of water. According to an article by the Huffington Post, water gives our brain rest from overstimulation and induces a meditative state.
6. Himalayan Salt Lamp
I had no idea of the benefits of a Himalayan salt lamp. The lamp is a carved piece of rock from the Mountains in Northeast Pakistan and stretches across approximately 186 miles from the Jhelum River to the Indus River. The Himalayan salt lamp releases negative ions which promote a relaxing environment and increases the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain. WebMD explains it perfectly. Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments. Think mountains, waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin which help to alleviate depression, stress, and boost energy.
While journaling is not anything new in the mental health world, I think it is important for anyone struggling with a mental illness. It helps you be honest with yourself, track changes, create goals and express feelings through journaling. The beautiful thing about journaling is that you can be as free as you want and it is a judgment-free zone. You can journal once a day, a few times a day or every few days; there is no set schedule so it does not feel like a chore. If you are in therapy, journaling can allow you to write topics and concerns that you can discuss in therapy that will better aid you in your recovery and healing. Journaling helps to clarify your thoughts, reduce stress and solve problems. It has also been proven that journaling is one of the most effective coping skills.
While the above seven strategies mentioned are not the only strategies for coping and taking care of yourself, it is important to find what works for you. Take the time and step outside of your comfort zone for managing your mental illness and begin your journey to healing. God often pushes us outside of our comfort zone to strengthen our faith in Him and ourselves.
I’ve seen too many women die over the past few months. Women that had so much life left to live. Women that had virtually conquered the world and transformed lives. Women who were gone too soon. I took their deaths personally.
I was angry that I didn’t know about their cancers before they died. I was angered by their secrecy. I was angry at the disease that caused them to turn inward and remain invisible. Could they have been saved? I took it exceptionally hard because, just a few years ago, my own life was saved because of my sister.
February 2007, at the age of 35, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. She decided to visit the Emergency Room for a migraine headache and requested a mammogram due to a feeling she had. Not an actual physical feeling, but a gut feeling.
She almost dismissed that gnawing in her stomach and came close to chalking it up to her being somewhat of a “hypochondriac” but she pushed past her own internal judgment to ask the doctor to give her a mammogram. It was in her self-advocacy that she learned she had breast cancer.
My sister elected to have a mastectomy and began her journey to survivorship March of that year.
Too Close to Home
My sister’s diagnosis raised my awareness to the disease. I knew about cancer, as many of my aunts died of the deadly disease. However, this time, it was a little too close to home.
I shared my sister’s diagnosis with my doctor and she advised me, at 32 years of age, to get a baseline mammogram. I’m glad I did.
Three years later, in 2010, before my 35th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Two years earlier I had a lumpectomy as a mass was discovered but it was benign. But it was due to that discovery that routine screenings began for me.
My routine mammogram in 2010 was one of the most difficult ones I had. The squeezing, pulling, and tugging of the technician to get a good picture was unpleasant. Waiting in a room for a few people to look at my results also caused great anxiety. The repeat exam caused great alarm. The letter in the mail carrying the news that I needed a biopsy was mortifying.
The fine needle aspiration and the diagnosis later sucked all the air out of my lungs. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer…#worldstop!
My doctor advised me to have genetic counseling and it was through a blood draw and genetic testing that I learned I had the BRCA2 gene mutation. My doctor encouraged me to use that information to make an informed decision about my treatment. I decided to have a double-mastectomy.
There is a more technical term for it but essentially one breast was removed due to cancer and the other was removed as a preventive measure.
My Sister’s Keeper
The same BRCA2 gene mutation also increased my chances of having both breast and ovarian cancer so in 2011 I also had my ovaries removed. Everything had to go!
I am sharing this story because I want to save a sister. My sister did for me what I hope to do for you, and that is to encourage you to become an advocate for yourself and take charge of your health. I was diagnosed with cancer but not given a death sentence. I am still here, 7 years later, sharing my story with you because I want you to live, too.
- Get tested. Early detection is the key.
- Share your story. Let someone else know what steps you took for survival. Let them know your journey so that they too can become vigilant in their health.
- Break the silence. It’s time to stop hiding.
Going Beyond Breast Cancer
I am pleased to announce that another sister of mine is breaking the silence related to a health issue experienced by thousands of women, infertility. The Rev. Dr. Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn is the founder and president of, Fertility for Colored Girls, NFP (FFCG).
FFCG has been around for roughly four years and has made its mission to be a resource, advocate, and fertility coach for men and women looking to create the families of their dreams.
FFCG has been bringing awareness to the issue of fertility among black and brown women across the nation. The organization has 7 chapters in 7 metropolitan areas and is looking to open 5 more chapters this year.
Dr. Edwards-Dunn just released a book, Hold on to Hope: Stories of Black Women’s Fertility, Faith, & Fight to Become Mommies earlier this month. The book is to help other women know their options for creating the family they long to have. Dr. Edwards-Dunn is working to save a sister. I am here because my sister saved me. Who will you save?
More information about Rev. Dr. Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn’s book can be found at www.drstaceyledwardsdunn.com
Do you have a story of silent survival that you’d like to share? Leave it below.