It’s Time to Leverage the Power of Black Media to Sustain Gains Made against Mental Illness Stigma

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

As the 2016 Minority Mental Health Awareness month winds down, it’s a good time to reflect and think ahead to sustaining the conversations that start during this time but too often fade away as the months roll on. There have been several Twitter chats, articles, a movie, and in-person events focused on providing safe spaces, times, and places for African Americans to discuss various aspects of mental health, illness, and stigma. This is a very good thing. More and more blacks are stepping up and speaking out both in support of those they know struggling with mental health issues and/or as a measure of self-care to admit their own challenges. The sense of relief at being able to open up, speak truth, and defy the community stigma is palpable in chat participants’ comments like these:

#CRWNchat on mental health stigma:

Z. ‏@zoladesmarias  Jul 21

A6: My takeaway from tonight's chat is that i need to be open and vulnerable. i HAVE to put me first. #CRWNchat

0 retweets3 likes 3

 Morenita ‏@gabithorne96  Jul 21

@CRWNmag dealing with racism, sexism, anti-blackness, etc. take its toll on a person and we don't acknowledge that #CRWNchat

0 retweets1 like 1

 That's Chelsea ‏@HiThatsChelsea  Jul 21

That's Chelsea Retweeted CRWN

We have to continue these conversations. As part of self-care we have to seek care even when it seems hard #CRWNchat

CRWN @CRWNmag

Q5: How can we work to rid of the stigma(s) surrounding Black mental health issues and care in your opinion? #CRWNchat

5 retweets1 like

 #RootChat on black mental health:

Melanie Hibbert-Bown ‏@MelHibbertBown1  Jul 22

#RootChat I see mental health as a positive experience & a part of my identity. My insight is unique to me & one that I am proud of.

Joe Blue ‏@poetnoir  Jul 21

@TheRoot as a veteran mental health is paramount. Sometimes we need help processing out feelings and putting them in prospective. #RootChat

2 retweets3 likes

nobel ‏@flyingfreee  Jul 21

@TheRoot as a black woman, admitting MH issues is taboo because we don't want to fit into that angry, crazy black woman stereotype #rootchat

6 retweets8 likes

Other black-focused media organizations offered solid mental-health-themed content this month, including Ebony.com weighing in with articles on anxiety and suicide. And this is as it should be. The Black community, more than other ethnic groups, engages heavily with media; information, encouragement, and resources need to be available through these sources. But our resistance to mental health conversation and mental illness acknowledgment and treatment runs deep, so a vehicle is needed that can reach a critical mass of people with messages that can turn the tide on the stigma that still holds too much sway.

While overall print circulation for some black media organizations has declined over the past two to three years, black media still offers a tremendous avenue by which to move people to dialogue and action. The Pew Research Center on Journalism and Media, in its 2015 State of the News Media publication reports that the top three black-targeted print magazines in 2014—Ebony, Essence, and Black Enterprise—had total average annual circulation of roughly 5.7million. Using digital population figures for January 2015, the top five black-targeted websites had on average close to seven million unique visitors. Over the years, black media has persuaded more black men to ‘wrap it up’ (BET); inspired those infected with the HIV virus to know that they are > HIV; stimulated conversations on colorism (School Daze, Dark Girls), shone the light on race relations and the dreams and aspirations of black folks (Fences, Raisin in the Sun), chronicled the under-acknowledged ‘other’ great migration of blacks from the South (The Warmth of Other Suns), and generally been a herald, co-mourner, and celebrant of the black experience.

Besides articles and chats, what else can black media do to get involved in mental health issues? Activities like these should be the minimum level of engagement:

Create partnerships with mental health providers to help educate about therapy/counseling treatment

Help call out behaviors and mindsets in our own community that feed stigma and hinder treatment and wellness

Highlight stories of black mental illness survivors

Create and develop documentaries, feature films, videos about mental health/illness; and integrate mental health storylines/arcs into current media projects

Partner with advocates and organizations already doing the work

Provide mental health wellness and treatment options for employees as part of benefit packages

Collaborate with one another to create public awareness campaigns

More books, including children’s books, highlighting the subject

Create in-person workshops and teach-ins covering mental health topics

Ourselves | Black calls on its sister media organizations to help sustain the important momentum realized during this month by giving careful consideration to their roles in getting the community mentally strong and emotionally well.