This year we mark the over 65 years’ movement to build awareness about mental health concerns of all Americans. The 2014 theme, “Mind Your Health”, draws specific significance for the African American community. Still faced with a number of challenges to minding our mental health, we consider concerns specific to the African American community and what we need to know in order to be better advocates and stewards of our individual and community mental health and wellness.
Stigma. Mental health stigma is the fact of being viewed negatively and at times being discriminated against because of one’s mental health diagnosis and/or presentation of notable symptoms. Mental health stigma in the African American community is nuanced, shaped by gender and socio-economic status. As the community turns the page to mind our health, to do so does at times require changing the narrative. More recently, Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears made transparent his diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and was has committed significant funding to raise mental health awareness. Awareness education does decrease stigma with the potential to encourage people to seek the appropriate level of care when needed.
Access to Services. With the advent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare”, many more Americans have access to health insurance and care. Increased access does not always mean adequate service provision. Aside from the influence of stigma, cultural implications shape African American’s experience of mental health services. Factors such as, slower metabolism of medication, disproportionate diagnosis of schizophrenia, the tendency to manifest physical symptoms in relation to mental illness (somatization), and the failure of the mental health establishment to adequately train practitioners for the cultural characteristics that influence symptom presentation leads to misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose treatable mental illness.
Minding Our Collective Mental Health
What can we do to be better advocates/stewards of mental health for ourselves and within community? The tips below provide a start.
1. If you see something, say something. It is not helpful to engage the complicity of silence around mental health issues and concerns, including substance abuse. This silence only furthers stigma and slows the process to accessing needed services.
2. Help/get help navigating insurance and other complicated policy. In the midst of mental health crisis, one’s cognitive and emotional capacities are overextended. Assistance reading and making meaning of the small print can be a great help.
3. Facilitate/ask for assistance making calls/appointments. Depending on the level of care needed, it is possible making the necessary calls to providers and/or scheduling/attending appointments can be overwhelming. If needed, ask for help and/or consider ways you or others may assist with these tasks.
4. Self-care. While being a support to another is important, you are only as helpful as you are well. Be sure that you engage your support networks and engage personal self-care practices, such as eating well and regularly, drinking enough water and getting adequate rest.
Visit the BlackDoctor.org Mental Health center for more articles and tips.
Dr. Wendi S. Williams is a psychological consultant and professor at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY. Her work centers on the interrelationship of goal-achievement and spiritual-emotional health and wellness. Through the development and implementation of educational and wellness interventions, she works with clients to explore internal and external challenges to meeting their goals. Dr. Williams writes on these topics and more on her blog at CHRYSALIStransformconsulting.com.