On Our Minds: Blacks v. Mental Health Care

A few years ago, I wrote a story for the Washington Informer which highlighted the lack of mental health resources in the black community and some of the measures being taken to remedy this deficit. Of course, such resources are of value to the community. However, when I think about the lack of mental health facilities and practitioners in the black community, I don’t automatically think that society has held out on us. I think of supply and demand. Many (note I said many, not all) black people do not “believe in” mental health care. From childhood, we are told not to tell strangers “our business” and that what “goes on in our houses, stays in our houses.” I believe these adages from our elders may be relevant and necessary for minor issues, but have the potential to be dangerous and destructive in some situations.

Individuals who have faced trauma in their own homes (abuse, divorce, molestation, etc.) may not feel comfortable keeping that, well, at home. With the threat of ostracization from one’s own family looming, who would seek outside help? Few people. With that, you have a lot of people carrying around baggage without any coping mechanisms, constructive support or other therapeutic interventions for years. It’s devastating.

Even people who have not been told their entire lives to “keep their business to themselves” may be reluctant to share their feelings of inadequacy, sadness, stress, shame, anger, hurt and pain with others. Black people in particular have a history of being strong, resilient and weathering storms as they come. There are many of us, including me at times, who do not want to put a fracture in this legacy. Therefore, we try to deal with our problems internally.

While we should aim to be strong and self-sufficient, we can’t always cut it by ourselves and that’s O.K. We might not even be ab judge le to talk to our most trusted allies — best friends, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. If our loved ones find out things about us and about our thoughts that deviate from what is considered culturally or socially acceptable, there is a chance they may see us in a different light. While our hearts may tell us they will never us or turn their backs on us, our minds may say otherwise. And this internal conflict is O.K., too, whether warranted or not. There is nothing wrong with seeking a neutral party who is trained to help people from heterogeneous backgrounds and lifestyles through a plethora of dilemma and emotions.

I say all of this because I am tired of my brothers and sisters taking their own lives. I am upset by anyone ending their own life — especially our young people of all races. While suicide has been overwhelmingly stereotyped as a “white thing,” the act has gained momentum in the black community (right along with eating disorders and skin cancers brought on from overexposure to the sun).

While black men have a suicide rate that is roughly half that of whites, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for black males ages 15-24. Not natural causes. Not drag racing or other reckless, youthful play. Not murder. Suicide. The taking of one’s own life. The black race is losing enough black males to addiction, homicide, and the prison system. Must we add another terminator?

After hearing about several friends of friends who have taken their own lives in the last few years — all young, black people with immense talent and greatness to offer the world — I am pleading with everyone. It is the same plea I have had to whisper to myself from time to time. Seek help. Talk to someone. Let the stigma go. If you think you’re just having a “rough patch” or are “blue,” do not brush it off. Do not let it get out of control or become unbearable.


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