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.

Soaring with Wounded Wings

Have you ever been wounded and your ability to fly was compromised? Good news, you can fly again and soar to great altitudes. Wounded wings do heal. A painful circumstance may make it hard to thrust your wings but know that your ability to soar can be restored. It takes strength and commitment to heal.

But those who hope in the lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

An eagle is a majestic creature – bold, resilient, and peaceful. It is innate for eagles to fly; therefore, when wounded they do not abandon their purpose. They wait a period for healing to take place, then explore the sky once more.

The sky possesses limitless possibilities. Venture out of the nest and flap your wings again, again! As many times it takes until the desirable altitude is reached. When an eagle takes flight, gravity and strong muscles are used to thrust forward into the sky.  You may ask how is this even possible when I am recovering from a wound? God renews strength! He can provide you with confidence to reclaim your ability to soar above and beyond any circumstance in life.

In a metaphorical sense, like an eagle, you too can take ownership of the sky. You might have to fly alone or rest from time to time. But the moral is, healing is a process but do not give up on flying. When healed, be brave; leave your worries on the ground. Your vantage point will be exceedingly higher because you chose to explore new heights and nurture your destiny.

Meditate on this: Protect your beliefs and embrace your fear, for greatness only comes when you preserve. Keep your eyes to the sky!

Toxic Relationships: Knowing When to Love from a Distance

Remove yourself from people who treat you like your time does not matter, like your feelings are worthless or like your soul is replaceable – S. McNutt

Are you engaged in relationship that is draining your energy and leaving you depleted? It may be time to set boundaries/ or and learn how to love from a distance. This can be difficult to do in relationships where there is an unhealthy emotional attachment and codependency issues.

In such relationships, boundary setting can seem unachievable, but it can be done. The initial step is understanding your own personal boundaries and the importance of establishing them. Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others.

To establish healthy boundaries, communication is paramount as you will need to articulate the impact the relationship is having on you and your need for space. Do not be afraid to assert yourself. It is your right to self-preserve when a relationship has become toxic and unhealthy. There is nothing selfish about wanting to detach yourself from dysfunction and drama. Sherrie Campbell , a licensed California Psychologist and author of the book “Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person” stated, “sometimes we spend years sacrificing our mental and emotional health in abusive relationships under the notion that we have to because these people are our family.” When family and friends begin treating you poorly, it is time to protect yourself from ongoing mistreatment and stress.

My struggle was shouldering the burdens of my loved ones and allowing their negative energy to consume me. I seldomly said no or communicated how my health and feelings were suffering under the weight of their constant problems and toxicity. I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings or be perceived as uncaring. However, I could not continue giving of myself to those who were incapable of reciprocation. A line had to be drawn. Setting boundaries was necessary to maintain my own physical and mental health.

In an ABC News article written by Genevieve Shaw Brown, 7 Signs It’s time to cut (Toxic) family ties, Sherrie Campbell stated the following reasons to distance yourself or terminate relationships with family:

  1. When the relationship is based in manipulation, overt or covert, you are being used and abused mentally, sexually, verbally, or emotionally. When you are living in constant anxiety never knowing or being able to predict how any engagement is going to turn out.
  2. When the only contact you have with them is negative. The contact you have with them serves to bring you down or make you feel you are not good enough, or you have not done enough for them.
  3. When the relationship creates so much stress that it affects the important areas of your life at work, home or both.
  4. If you find yourself obsessed with the gossip about you and trying to right wrong information, and you are constantly being ostracized to the point you are losing sleep over it.
  5. When the relationship is completely all about the other person and there is no real reason why the other person cannot make any effort toward the health and maintenance of the relationship with you. One sided relationships are set up for your failure.
  6. When the relationship is only about borrowing money or needing money.
  7. When no-win games dominate the relationship such as silent treatment, blame games, no win arguments that spin around on you. These kinds of verbal interactions are set up to be their way or the highway. if these are the negative consequences you receive each time the person or people do not get their way, it is time to go.

Sister Garden

garden is a space set aside for the cultivation of plants/ flowers in different heights, colors, textures, and fragrances to create interest and delight the senses. In this meaning, the word cultivation stands out the most – meaning growth, planting, harvesting, and raising.

When I think about a garden and its meaning, my sisters come to mind. Black women growing together and cultivating each other while sowing seeds of inspiration, kindness, acceptance, and strength into the world. We encourage one another to flourish amid weeds, thorns, and  moments of drought. Like actual flowers, we absorb nourishment from the sun (Son) which fortify the roots of our sisterhood. All that we receive, we reciprocate back into the garden.  When one flower needs restoration, we beckon the nurturing care of our Gardener [Christ] in prayer.

For flowers to bloom with color and sweet fragrance, they need to be properly cared for. In the sister garden, this is what we do, regardless of the elements that come against us. We recognize the rarity of having  genuine women in life with whom you can cry and laugh. I encourage all women to start a sister garden – sow into the soil of sisterhood, so future flowers will be inspired to build a bond as strong and beautiful.

Lift Up Thine Head

Are you facing a circumstance that seems insurmountable?

Lift your head my friend. Trouble does not last always. I can personally attest to this.

Three years ago, I endured a painful divorce. My heart was shattered along with my self-esteem. I hung my head for weeks in shame and despair.  In the moment, it was easier to look down because to look forward meant seeing the raging storm in front of me.  It was tragic in every meaning of the word – a loss that felt like a death. I had no strength to fight, pray, or even cry. I asked God why repeatedly and he was seemingly silent. I felt alone with so many unanswered questions.

One random day, I fell to my knees and said an earnest prayer. Hands raised upwards and tears streaming down from my cheeks, I shouted “Please Lord take this pain away”. Before this, I was bitter and could not pray as my pain would not allow it. Gradually the pain subsided, and my spiritual vision became clear. The reason I was not free is because I did not want to let go. The longer I held onto a dead situation, I was rejecting the new life God had destined for me.

“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:28

By releasing my pain, I was in position to receive –  peace, revelation, and healing. I could finally lift my head. It took turning away from my circumstance and turning towards the one who could sustain me. This was the hardest part of the process. Sometimes when pain invades our hearts, it easier to hurt, than seek deliverance. I had to acknowledge that I was not strong enough nor capable of fighting any battle on my own.

I also learned that there is purpose in pain. You may ask how is this so? As a result of my divorce, I became better than I was before. The mountain that seemed undefeatable was conquered. And on the other side, was life better than I imagined.

Before opening my soul to forgiveness, I was in a destitute place – unemployed, nearly homeless, financially unstable, emotionally broken and psychologically battered. My life was in ruins. But GOD! The very obstacle sent to destroy me, ultimately led me to healing and wholeness.

Today I walk with my head high. I came through the storm and you can too!

When One Grieves, We All Grieve.

Can our community withstand another candlelight vigil?

Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually. The ownership and control of guns are among the most widely debated issues in the country. According to the Gun Violence Archive of 2019, there has been 40,835 shooting incidents; 10,823 deaths in total (2,247 teenagers 12-17 and 504 children 0-11) and 306 mass shootings.

Wikipedia and Gun Violence 2019 Archive

Today, I received news that another person was murdered. So, sad! It has become increasingly hard to watch the news due to the growing prevalence of gun crime. I think to myself, as the grief of our nation intensifies, will the outcry of mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons ever be heard?

Gun-related deaths and violence is leaving communities heartbroken and in mourning. A time has come for immediate action. Before more lives perish, we must galvanize policies, justice campaigns, and rallies to send the message that one person loss is a loss to the whole community. No one should have to endure the death and burial of a loved one due to a gun fatality.

I have learned that the loss does not happen in a vacuum. It permeates throughout communities, affecting people of diverse cultures, races, ages, and backgrounds.  And if we listen closely, we can hear Help Please. This is too painful to bear. When grief goes unresolved, it spreads universally and from one generation to the next. If we are to heal, grief education and awareness must be mobilized in our communities.

Grief and loss are inevitable parts of the human phenomenon which impact people in different ways, causing depression, anxiety, suicide, addiction, and destitution of hope. Help exists. I encourage everyone who has lost a loved one to utilize grief management resources, such as support groups, counseling therapy, bereavement workshops, and conferences.

Grief Management Resources:

Grief and Loss – American Counseling Association https://www.counseling.org/ The Dougy Center – Grief Resources https://www.dougy.org/grief-resources/ The Wendt Center for Loss & Healing https://www.wendtcenter.org/ 2nd annual Grieving with Hope Conference Life in Christ Ministries October 12, 2019 10 am – 12 pm Facilitated by: Anitra Green, LCSW

The Cry Within – Overcoming Childhood Domestic Violence

Children are exposed to unacceptable rates of violence in the home. More than 1 in 9 (11 percent) were exposed to some form of family violence in the past year, including 1 in 15 (6.6 percent) exposed to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) between parents (or between a parent and that parent’s partner). One in four children (26 percent) were exposed to at least one form of family violence during their lifetimes. Most youth exposed to family violence, including 90 percent of those exposed to IPV, saw the violence, as opposed to hearing it or other indirect forms of exposure

Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Here is my story:

My earliest memory of domestic violence in my home began at 7 years old. My stepfather was verbally and physically abusive towards my mother. Although, he was a loving man, his temper was explosive. I remember scary arguments that erupted into fights. I would be paralyzed with intense fear and anxiety. I wanted to protect my mother, but I was a defenseless child. All I could do was cower in a corner or run for safety with my baby brother. I felt helpless and traumatized. There is one incident I recall vividly. My parents were arguing for what seemed like hours, then my stepfather struck my mother in the face. I could hear crashing of objects and my mother screaming in distress “stop hitting me…please ”. I grabbed my brother’s hand and led him out of our apartment to my aunt’s apartment who lived below us on the second floor. Despite our palpable terror, my stepfather did not think twice about striking my mother repeatedly in front of us.

As time went on, more fights ensued between my parents; each one worse than the last. One time, to escape the violence,  I went outside and walked around the block with my brother in tow. My mother – trembling and battered found us sitting on the front stoop. I do not remember if 911 was called, but I recall the aftermath – broken glass, turned over furniture, and my mother in tears. I would ask myself, why a man who claimed to love us would cause so much fear and suffering?

My fight, flight, freeze responses were severely imbalanced from witnessing violence in my home. I was hyper vigilant and always on alert. I suffered with panic attacks even when no danger was present. Encounters with conflict of any kind would either cause an overreaction or no reaction at all. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Then later diagnosed with depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was prescribed a variety of medication, but none of them provided relief. The root of my depression and anxiety was trauma. I did not want this to be my reality, but sadly it was. I was faced with a decision – be a victim or a victor. I chose the latter. So, I started on a course of therapy to overcome my trauma wounds.

According national statistics, Victims of childhood domestic violence are at higher risk of neurological disorders, chronic pain, disability, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as noncommunicable diseases such as hypertension, cancer and cardiovascular diseases, and addiction to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

This is my first public disclosure. For many years, I did not tell anyone about my diagnosis or about my experience with domestic violence as a child. I was embarrassed and feared being judged. I finally came to the realization that in order to heal, I must tell my story to empower other childhood domestic violence victims to begin their own healing journey.

If you know a child living in a home with domestic violence, get help immediately.

Resources:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence https://ncadv.org