May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s something that has, in the past, been very taboo to speak about, however, in recent years has been brought to the spotlight as more and more people suffer from some sort of mental illness. No one is exempt. Even celebrities suffer from mental illness and have resorted to taking their own lives.
Most recently in the headlines is the suicide death of two Cincinnati teenagers who committed suicide just days between each other. Bossip was the first to report that pregnant 18-year old college student Mercedes Shaday took her life in her dorm room; not even two days later her 17-year old boyfriend Markeice Brown took his life. How each of them did it has not been specified. According to a Facebook live video Markeice posted before he killed himself he did it because he couldn’t live without Mercedes. Apparently they both talked about how they didn’t like living life and always felt they had nothing to live for. With Mercedes being away at college they weren’t able to see each other as often. As he sat outside wearing a hoodie, crying uncontrollably he talked about how her parents (who banned him from the funeral and blamed him for her death) didn’t really know what was going on with her. He then said goodbye to his friends and family via Facebook Live and left a lengthy status explaining that he’s going to see Mercedes since her parents won’t let him see her at the funeral.
People live every day with mental illness; the case of Markeice and Mercedes is a case of untreated mental illness and what can happen if left untreated. Having been diagnosed with anxiety myself, I suffer from similar feelings of inadequacy, having negative thoughts and feelings of anxiousness over the most minute thing. The illness makes you feel as if you have no one and no one understands or cares what you feel.
This is a long overdue conversation that needs to be had in the African American community. It’s something most don’t know a lot about but trust me when I say several people you know have some sort of mental illness because a lot of us suffer in silence. That same silence is what can lead to what happened to Markeice and Mercedes. The more people who understand and can empathize, the more people who suffer will feel comfortable asking for and seeking help.
The first thing that needs to be done is recognizing that mental illness is a real thing and those who have it should not be judged. It’s something that is not the fault of anyone; it’s a biological brain disorder. The Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports that our community is “20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population” due to things like experience to violence and homelessness. Those disorders include depression, ADHD, suicide and PTSD.
Unfortunately there are a few reasons why African Americans don’t seek help/treatment:
- Faith/Spirituality – The topic is not talked about and most don’t know what it means. We’re always told to just pray about it (and anything for that matter) and give it to God. While I go to God about everything, prayer alone will not help a mental disorder. It needs to be diagnosed and treated by a professional. Saying “Just pray about it” is one of the most dismissive things you can say to someone with a mental illness.
- Lack of information & misunderstanding – Lack of understanding or the inability to realize that mental illness is a real thing leads to underestimating the effects of how big of an impact it can have on everyday life.
- Access to healthcare – Some African Americans are very reluctant to seek help from a professional either because of a lack of benefits and/or distrust of medical professionals. NAMI reports that “only about one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of whites.”
A few symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental illness include feeling sad, confused thinking, being unable to concentrate, withdrawal from friends and family, extreme mood changes, feeling sluggish/sleeping more often than normal, excessive anger or hostility. If you or anyone you know show signs don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to reach out for help. I was in denial for a couple of years before I realized that getting help would make my life much easier and more enjoyable. You’d be surprised at how many people also have mental illness. Since I’ve been more open I’ve learned of so many people who go through exactly what I go through. And it’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with you. You deserve to get help. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to live a healthy life.
To get help reach out to your primary healthcare provider. There are also support groups in local areas as well as online groups on platforms like Facebook. Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence because it could cost you your life one day.