The realness of Mental Health in African American Community

I want to be among the few who share their experience with mental health in effort to promote awareness and the end the stigma on mental illness in the black community. Before sharing my story, here are a few facts proving the prevalence of mental health in the United States. Based on statistics reported by NAMI (National Alliance Mental Illness):

1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year,
1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34

Mental illness does not discriminate. Anyone can develop a mental health disorder regardless of age, religion, gender or economic status. However, stigmatization of mental illness among African-Americans has led to the disguise of symptoms and many struggling in silence. This a serious problem that warrants an increase of education, intervention, and dialogue in our community.

My mental health journey began in 2004. I struggled with chronic sadness and fatigue after the birth of my first child. Six weeks later, I went to a follow-up appointment with OB-GYN and was diagnosed with post-partum depression and prescribed an anti-depressant medication. I was told that my symptoms were normal and that many women experience depression after giving birth. Even with medication, the lowliness persisted. Eventually the sadness manifested into severe panic attacks. I went back to my doctor and was clinically diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This was devastating. I went from feeling low to extremely anxious all the time. I could not sleep because my thoughts raced. I isolated myself socially because I feared having panic attacks in front of others. I tried to talk to family and friends about what I was experiencing and was told to pray about it. No one understood or even tried to understand. I felt so alone.

After years of suffering, I decided to put my fears aside and get help. I went to therapy and a anxiety support group recommended by my therapist. I must say it was the best decision I ever made. Had I chosen not to get professional treatment, my anxiety and depression would have consumed me.

Thinking back, my biggest fear was being labeled and ostracized for having a condition I could not control. In the African American community, the stigma associated with mental conditions increases the vulnerability to and severity of such conditions and prevent individuals from pursuing adequate treatment. Without proper treatment, mental health conditions can worsen and make day-to day life harder. Silence and stoicism – denying oneself help in order to appear strong – need to be overcome. True strength lies in recognizing the need for help and seeking it out (St. John, 2017)

Professional treatment works. There is help and resources available. Consult with your primary care doctor to determine whether the symptoms you are experiencing is a mental health disorder. If you do not have a primary care doctor, contact a local health or mental health clinic or your local government to see what services you qualify for. You can find contact information online at findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357). NAMI helpline 800-950-NAMI. Text 741741 for help in a crisis.

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