Black Voters Must Make Mental Health Part of This Year's Election Cycle

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

 

One hundred three days from today, American voters will select the next President of the United States. Whoever that person turns out to be, Black Americans need to make sure that mental health will be a national priority.

During the run-up to both party national conventions, committees attempt to solidify and clarify the party’s platform, which is a set of beliefs, core values, and resulting policy and governing priorities that will guide the work of political office-holders for upcoming terms. This year’s platforms for both Democrats and Republicans reflect traditional mainstays of the collective party voice as well as new topics that mirror hot-button social issues like police violence against civilians, criminal justice reform, and gun violence. Though the Democratic party platform certainly gets a better grade than the Republicans for specifically including mental health as bold-letter, heading-level priorities, both parties need to be held much more accountable by the black community to raise the consciousness level within their organizations of the importance of national attention and actionable policy on specific mental health concerns.

Perhaps the simplest, most direct and most impactful argument to be made in favor of raising the visibility of mental health issues is the undeniable interconnectedness of other party platform issues and mental and emotional health, including substance abuse and addiction. When discussing gun violence, for example, and the perpetrator is a white male, most often the search for motivation turns quickly to possible mental illness. Conversely, the motivation for black perpetrators of gun violence is reflexively attributed to some combination of bad character, general criminal proclivity, and rage. But now, in large part due to heightened awareness and dialogue around mental illness and emotional disturbance, the narrative is slowly beginning to include questions of mental health stability even for black gunmen.

Equality and civil rights figure prominently in the Democrats’ platform; in a much more implicit way in the Republicans’ platform. Discrimination and inequality across the spectrum of social engagement requires not only policy efforts targeted to availability of affordable and safe housing, equitable access to quality education and job opportunities; enacted legislation and executive orders must include funding for mental health services for individual victims and disenfranchised groups to diagnose and treat mental health conditions arising from such discrimination and bias. Research studies have examined the effects of discrimination on mental and physical health of African Americans. Despite questions regarding methodologies used to measure and/or define discrimination and accounting for how different people might perceive bias, research consistently shows mental health effects from racial inequality, including depression and anxiety.

The Republican Party 2016 platform focuses on structure and infrastructure of the healthcare system and addresses issues such as: patient/doctor relationship, state control of local insurance markets; patient choice and portability of policies and coverage; and access to high quality healthcare, “including those struggling with mental illness.” The black community stands to gain by putting pressure on Republicans up and down the ballots to specifically identify policy initiatives and to craft value statements that demonstrate a commitment to providing preventive and recovery services, aiding families with children with mental illness diagnoses, and funding innovative non-traditional treatment methods.

The Democratic Party platform is more specific than that of the Republicans, but there is still room for improvement. Its stated priorities are substance abuse and addiction, particularly opioid addiction. The following are also listed as areas of focus:

Removing barriers to recovery, including addressing unemployment, lack of housing, and inequities in education;

Mental health parity, particularly implementing provisions of the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act of 2008;

Drug abuse prevention;

Integration of mental and behavioral health systems;

Access for children to mental health services;

Community-based treatment for mental health conditions and drug abuse/addiction;

These points represent a solid agenda for mental health that African Americans can contextualize to address other points in the platform like education and violence. Voters should be prepared to bring up these issues at upcoming town halls; black journalists should be asking questions on these issues during debates and candidate forums; black organizations should prepare talking points and candidate scorecards that can be used to evaluate the records of incumbents and challengers.

Mental Health Lessons for the Black Community in TV One’s “The Secret She Kept”

The Secret She Kept, A TV One Original Movie Starring Kyla Pratt, Vanessa Williams, and Kelita Smith

The Secret She Kept, A TV One Original Movie Starring Kyla Pratt, Vanessa Williams, and Kelita Smith

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

Minority Mental Health Awareness Month just got a little more interesting. Tonight TV One premiered the well-received movie, “The Secret She Kept”, about a young professional woman who has hidden her mental illness all her life but now faces a crisis of exposure of her family’s well-kept secret.

The fact that a black-owned network tackles this challenging subject matter at all is laudatory enough. The layered treatment of the issues—including involvement of law enforcement in mental illness crises, generational mental illness, stigma against support groups, therapy, and taking medication, and enabling behavior of family members—creates a favorable environment for open and realistic discussion of these issues and more like them. Best of all, the movie highlights several actionable takeaways to move the community forward in addressing mental health, serious mental illness, survivor advocacy, and family caregiving.

Trying to keep mental disorders hidden only further compounds the emotional and mental pressures of the illness itself. Tia, the main character in the movie, resorts to lies—including telling her husband that she’s pregnant rather than reveal her diagnosis—and manipulation to protect the secret of her mental illness. The longer she tries to keep the deception going, the more her symptoms rise to the surface. The stress of deceiving someone she loves, being pressured by her mother to maintain the lies, all the while attempting to manage a law practice and running for political office heightens Tia’s paranoia and triggers episodes of aggressive behavior that no one can seem to de-escalate once they get started. Most importantly, it prevents the person affected from initiating or continuing life-saving treatment, and isolates them from invaluable support both from survivors like them and from healthcare resources. While it’s easy to see the importance and benefits of disclosure of one’s mental disorder, the film offers a sobering reality check of what it’s like for the survivor to live with the illness every day. In a therapy session towards the end of the movie, Tia explains to her psychiatrist and mother that she sees the looks others give her, and she knows people wonder what’s wrong with her, or have already labeled her as a disease. There is truly much at stake for survivors and families, but preservation of life is the critical factor.

Enabling behavior, while well-intentioned, is ultimately deadly. One of the best ways to support persons confronting mental challenges is to help them face truths and realities about their conditions while still directing their focus to hope and recovery. Tia’s mother is not atypical in her overwhelming desire to protect her daughter. But she is also not atypical in allowing her fears to dominate her caregiving to the point that behaviors done from a place of love become serious deterrents to the health of the person that needs help. Family support gets more complicated when dealing with young adults because everyone around them wants to honor their adulthood and personal autonomy. When Tia’s mother tells her she needs to start taking her medication again and Tia refuses, it presents a difficult situation. Legally, in most situations, a person cannot be forced to take medication so family and friends must rely on influence rather than authority to persuade the person to comply with their treatment protocol. On the other hand, actively helping someone avoid treatment and remain in denial about the seriousness of their condition can only exacerbate an already stressful situation. Loving but firm boundaries about the limits of one’s involvement in deceptions and avoidance behavior are necessary. Also, education and support from groups like the National Alliance for Caregiving provide strategies and best practices for people supporting and providing care for others.

Being proactively educated about mental health and illness can avoid delays in support and treatment. Once Tia’s husband can no longer deny that something serious is happening with his wife, his sister encourages him to get educated about mental illness so that he is better equipped to assess her behaviors. Up to that point, he has explained away Tia’s emotional instability and puzzling impulsivity by reasoning that she is stressed about the competing demands in her life, and that’s “just how she is”. Education relieves emotional pressure by replacing speculation with concrete, actionable information. Once he researched various conditions he could better deflect her family’s attempts to exclude him from decision-making. As long as he remained uninformed, effective intervention to get Tia back on track stalled, but once he knew how to interpret what she was experiencing, he was prepared to assertively advocate for his wife. There’s a saying to the effect that it’s better to open the umbrella before it starts raining. Becoming educated about symptoms of various mental illnesses and emotional disorders is equally important as knowing the signs of a heart attack or stroke.

As more stakeholders become actively involved in mental health and illness, stigma will recede and create a culture of acceptance, recovery, wellness, and hope.

 

Related content:

Three Critical Realities (Besides Racism) Taking a Toll on Black Mental Health

http://ourselvesblack.com/journal/2016/7/6/three-critical-realities-besides-racism-taking-a-toll-on-black-mental-health

Take it From Me: Making the Decision to Disclose, or “F (ight) Stigma”

http://ourselvesblack.com/journal/2016/7/3/take-it-from-me-making-the-decision-to-disclose-or-f-ight-stigma

Ourselves | Black Mental Illness Library:

Schizophrenia:  http://ourselvesblack.com/schizophrenia

Bipolar Disorder:  http://ourselvesblack.com/bipolar-disorder

Three Critical Realities (Besides Racism) Taking a Toll on Black Mental Health

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

Since 2008 when July was officially designated as Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, millions of people have received education about mental illness and mental health to equip minority communities with resources for fighting stigma and providing support to individuals and families battling mental disorders. This year of 2016 has been an important year for black mental health. Research has shown that racism manifested as discrimination in employment, housing, education and virtually every sphere of life has a measurable deleterious effect on the mental and emotional health of black Americans. Not that anyone in the black community needed formal research to validate that lived fact. But the truth is that there are other realities operating within black culture which arguably cause just as much mental and emotional damage as racism and discrimination. This month is a great time to openly discuss these five dynamics and ways to erode their negative influence.

We keep too many secrets. It’s time to talk. Think of two black girls you know under the age of 18. One of them has been sexually assaulted and/or abused by a black man. A.black.man. This stuff starts early. When Uncle Petey is so ‘affectionate’ with the young girls in the family and his hand lingers too long on their backsides when coming out of one of his ‘hugs’, too many mothers and aunties quickly normalize this behavior and condition our girls to accept unwanted sexual attention by offering such excuses as, “that’s just how he is”; “you can’t pay him any mind, everybody knows he doesn’t mean any harm”; or “don’t be so sensitive—we’ve all been through it and we came out just fine.” The young victim is also cautioned not to go talking about it to other people, bringing shame on the family when it’s not even that serious. Thus begins her introduction to toxic secrecy—a staple coping mechanism in the black community. Sexual assault and abuse is just one of many acts that gets covered up. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) documents multiple psychological effects of sexual violence, including: depression, PTSD, self-harm, and eating disorders.  Physical and emotional abuse, neglect, hunger, pregnancy and abortion, and illness and disease also are routinely buried underground for generations by individuals, families, churches, and entire communities.

The black community’s history with the medical community is real, but so is the harm being done by silencing disclosures that can bring justice for victims and perpetrators alike, and healing by opening the door for loving but decisive confrontation within black social units like families and communities. Consider these possible ways to facilitate supported truthtelling:

Within families and other groups for which it is appropriate, designate 1-3 people as safe harbors who are available to listen and hear experiences without judgment or accusation. Create a family or group plan for how to progress through the situation from initial dialogue to action and if possible, resolution. Make it known that certain behaviors won’t be tolerated and will be disclosed and dealt with.

Take advantage of the group’s informal interactions by creating spaces to talk freely about feelings, hurts, and unresolved issues.  A workout at the gym or a dinner and movie night can become a time of open communication, and the beginning of addressing wrongs that need to be made right.

Lack of access to treatment and disparate treatment aren’t the only barriers fueling negative mental health outcomes. Denial and outright disbelief are major barriers, too and must be addressed in education campaigns and programming efforts. Research has shown that African Americans are more likely to believe that depression and other mental health issues are personal weaknesses and not actual disorders. This type of attitude both creates and perpetuates stigma. It is human nature to deal differently with someone believed to be a victim of their own inadequacy versus someone with a medically verifiable condition. Despite this belief system, a disproportionate amount of emphasis is places on lack of access and disparate treatment. People will not seek help for something they don’t believe exists. Access issues fit well into advocacy efforts and can generate valuable funding and policy decisions, but the first priority should be shifting mindsets from skepticism and stigma to education, sharing and disclosure by credible witnesses, acceptance, and support. Creation and dissemination of fact sheets, community peer training in how to discuss mental health issues, and integration of mental health education into common cultural venues like fraternity and sorority meetings and events, family reunions, and college orientations are important methods of changing minds and behavior regarding mental and emotional health issues.

An alarming number of black people are missing. The families of these victims need more visibility and support. The Black and Missing Foundation, Inc. (BAMFI), using FBI data from 2014, reports that almost 37% of missing people age 17 and under are black. This represents about 170,000 children. MEE Productions, Inc. issued a 2010 report, Moving Beyond Survival Mode: Promoting Mental Wellness and Resiliency as a Way to Cope with Urban Trauma, based on community-based research on the stressors and coping mechanisms of urban life. For mothers and women, the top stressor on mental health was concern and fear for the safety and wellbeing of children. Every day BAMFI tweets multiple missing person alerts, one of the latest and most alarming being the fact that 14 12-19 year old girls have gone missing from the Bronx since 2014; six of them this past June. The friends and families of missing people, especially children can only be described as living hell on earth. This is an ongoing trauma that exerts incredible psychological pressure on two levels: first just from the fact that a child is missing; second from the collateral consequences of having to deal with the situation—possible missed time from work, family stress and dysfunction, and physical impacts like sleep deprivation. Community based organizations should have resources and information available for families whose child is missing, including the excellent publication, When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide, produced by the Office of Justice Programs, a division of the Department of Justice. And for those tragic situations in which a loved one is missing for a protracted period of time or is not found alive, specialized mental and emotional support is vital.

This month commit to learning specifically about one area that particularly impacts black mental health. Do a deep dive and tangibly pass it on to your social network. Tweet, post on Facebook and Instagram. Everyone has a part to play.

For Black Women, 'Living While Anxious' Often Leads to Poor Health

Adia Harris, Contributing Writer

You know the feeling right before jumping into a freezing cold pool? When your heart thumps wildly, anticipating that moment of shock when you make impact with the water? The feeling is intense, but luckily it only lasts an instant; you hit the water and the initial shock disappears as your body relaxes and adjusts to the water’s temperature.              

But what if that feeling of relief after impact never happened? What if no matter the situation or its outcome you could never become relaxed or ever feel at ease? That’s what it’s like to live with chronic anxiety. For black women it often feels as if we are perpetually waiting for the proverbial ‘ball to drop.’ If we get a promotion we constantly worry about proving ourselves worthy of keeping the job; when in love, we hold our breath waiting for the romance to turn sour; and when our loved ones are happy and healthy we clutch at our hearts in fear of the day when this is no longer the case. In a lot of ways we believe we are the custodians for the harder parts of life, and we must remain hyper-vigilant and ready to clean up life’s ‘messes’ that are surely on the horizon.

According to the New York Times article, America the Anxious, 1 in 5 Americans are dealing with an anxiety disorder. Out of those 40 million or so individuals, women are twice as likely to be affected by the majority of these disorders, including general anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, specific phobias and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  When you factor in socioeconomic stressors, the disproportionate effects of anxiety disorders on the African American female population significantly increases. And that’s an extremely big deal.

We are all biologically equipped with a stress response system, more commonly known as fight-or-flight. When stimulated by an imminent threat, our bodies release a surge of hormones that prepare us to protect ourselves from injury. However this hormone release is meant only for responses to immediate stressors, not long-term stressors that cause chronic anxiety. Research indicates long-term activation of this response disrupts almost all the body’s processes and increases the risk for health problems, most commonly coronary vascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, cognitive impairment, and both inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.

Executive wellness coach and physician, Carol J. Scott M.D., hones in on the reality of negative health impacts brought on by race-related discrimination among black women in her Huffington post article Stress, Health and African American Women: A Black History Month Notation. She cites research that provides evidence of how subtle mistreatment over time leads to increased surges in diastolic blood pressure (DBP) for African American women as well as the alarming rates of ambulatory medical visits and incidences of strokes and deaths in hypertensive black females compared to other ethnicities.

In short, exercising strategies for long-term stress release is not only a key factor for black women to improve their mental health, but also their physical well being and resilience.  

Here are two great resources that shine a light on what anxiety means for the African-American female and effective solutions to combat feelings of overwhelm on a daily basis.

Website:

http://madamenoire.com/141805/be-cool-6-signs-you-may-be-dealing-with-anxiety-issues/

Book:  Neal-Barnett, A. M. (2003). Soothe your nerves: The Black woman's guide to understanding and overcoming anxiety, panic, and fear. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Sources:

Health Disparities and Stress Fact Sheet (n.d.). Retrieved June 24, 2016, from https://www.apa.org/topics/health-disparities/stress.pdf

Anxiety and physical illness - Harvard Health. (n.d.). Retrieved June 26, 2016, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/anxiety_and_physical_illness

More than Feeling Blue: The Importance of Identifying and Treating Postpartum Depression

Mothers who receive treatment for postpartum depression are more likely to see a reduction in their depressive symptoms, which then allows them to better care for themselves and their child.  Spouses and partners also enjoy a more mutually-supportive relationship. Even more importantly, children also then benefit from a happier, present mother, which reduces their risk of developing emotionaland behavioral problems in the future.

Read More

7 Black Men Leading the Way in Mental Health Part 2

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

In Part 1 of this story, Ourselves|Black highlighted Jay Barnett and Dr. David Satcher, two African-American men who are significantly impacting mental health in and or the black community. Just as it is important to lift up men influencers in sports, entertainment, and the various professions, it is equally important to raise awareness of men who are helping our community deal with—really deal with—mental and emotional health in bold, unapologetic ways. Seeing Steve Harvey help young adults communicate more effectively and have more loving relationships has reinvigorated people’s desire to experience love in a way that is more fulfilling. We need the same type of influence from men in the area of mental and emotional health. Men who will show black boys and young men that it’s okay to push into their issues and work on changing their thoughts, recognizing and managing their emotions, learning how to spot trouble warning signs, and where and how to get help when needed.

Here are two more noteworthy advocates changing the landscape of mental health for black men and young people.

Ron Artest

Former NBA Player, Member of the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers Championship Team

Mental Health Advocate

Ron Artest

Ron Artest

Listen to the thank-you speeches at any awards show, and you’re not going to hear winners thank their psychiatrist, therapist, or other mental health professional. Yet Ron Artest did. During an interview after the Los Angeles Lakers clinched the 2010 NBA championship, he stunned everyone by saying, “I’d like to thank my psychiatrist [she’s actually a licensed psychologist], Dr. Santhi. She really helped me relax.” Sports fans and writers might have agreed that Artest needed to relax; no one could forget the “Malice at the Palace” incident in 2004 when he returned the aggression of a fan by charging into the crowd. But openly admitting to seeing a psychiatrist, well, that’s something altogether different. Especially for a professional athlete. Especially for a black professional athlete. His admission was remarkable also because it demonstrated that mental health should be a natural part of life and is foundational to our well-being and peak performance.

As time has passed, that moment proved to not be a celebratory blip on the radar of Mr. Artest’s life. He has continued to speak about and advocate for mental health, and in ways that leave a true legacy. He talks to school-aged children, sharing the problems he faced growing up and how they affected him. They are encouraged to ask for and get help if they need it. His journey includes many details others would cover up: getting into trouble in school and his neighborhood; seeing his first therapist in high school; jail time precipitated by anger issues and uncontrolled emotions; and showing up on a late night talk show in only his boxer shorts. He leaves nothing out, all to influence young people to live honestly, face their issues, and not be ashamed of their struggles. This is star-power impact.

Brandon Marshall

New York Jets, Wide Receiver

Founder, Project Borderline

Co-Founder, Project 375

Brandon Marshall

Brandon Marshall

 Brandon Marshall is a mental health multi-tasker. His multimedia project, The Chatter, features interviews, news features, and written pieces that highlight news items from a mental health perspective. It is via this platform that Marshall interviewed fellow NFL player Arian Foster about his mental health challenges. He created Project Borderline after he was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2011. Project Borderline is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the illness to defeat stigma, advocating for legislation to make the system work better for survivors and families, and increasing access to treatment for those seeking it. He puts it all on the line and his money where his mouth is in promoting mental health awareness. In 2013, the NFL fined him for wearing green shoes to call attention to mental health issues. He’s worn green nail polish to spark conversation. He funds groups that work and advocate in the mental health space. And he is changing lives, as any true champion does.

7 Black Men Leading the Way in Mental Health Part 1

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

Black men and mental health; that’s still an uncomfortable combination for many people, especially black men. It’s time for discomfort to give way to dialogue and development so that the foundations of the black community and society at large can be strengthened. Not talking about suicide being the third leading cause of death among black males 15-24 years old is not okay. Neither is only talking about it, without directed and informed advocacy or persistent self-education and care. Black men have a universal mantra, “Only a black man can raise a black man.” To whatever extent that might be true, perhaps the sentiment should be expanded to include black men talking to, supporting, and advocating for other black men on issues of mental and emotional health and wellness. Progress in that dynamic is slow but slowly changing.

The tension among black men between perceived emotionalism and necessary stoicism has always run not too far under the surface of interactions, relationships, even music. Remember when Ice Cube commented, “So many people are going soft, so many love songs on the radio that I felt like I probably wouldn’t be able to buy nothing I liked unless I bought my own stuff. It was just time to be hard-core and not be so damn soft all the ***damn time. The mixture of R & B is killing the music.” A big problem with that thought process is that it reveals an insidious assumption that still hinders the full growth and development of black men today: only certain types of emotional expression, about certain topics are acceptable by and among black men. Clearly Ice Cube’s early era music was highly emotional: he passionately warned of the time bomb waiting to explode between residents and police, to the point of threats and some would say inciting violence; he ranted against inequity and oppression; and his intense anger was palpable. To him, those were acceptable topics and appropriate emotional expression. The reference to R & B being soft is a critique of singing about different types of angst, fear, and insecurity. The pain of losing a lover and not being able to cope, the open declaration of love, longing, and desire for a woman just out of reach, or the fear of failing: these too should be accepted ways for men and boys to express themselves.

Thankfully, there is a new wave of black men who understand and appreciate that putting artificial limits on how they feel, what they think, and how they choose to put themselves out into the world creates mental and emotional prisons which they refuse to inhabit. There are medical and mental health professionals who study and help create policy; young survivors who refuse to not tell their whole story and are helping others do the same; athletes and former athletes who shatter stereotypes and show a fuller, more robust image of black manhood. At Ourselves | Black, we believe in highlighting positive aspects of the fight for mental health, so join us in applauding these seven champions of mental health for black men.

 Dr. David Satcher

Founding Director and Senior Advisor, Satcher Health Leadership Institute,Morehouse School of Medicine

Former (16th) Surgeon General of the United States    

Co-Creator (with former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy) of ‘The System We Need’ and the State of the Union in Mental Health and Addiction

Dr. David Satcher receiving an Honorary Doctor degree

Dr. David Satcher receiving an Honorary Doctor degree

Dr. David Satcher is a powerhouse advocate for mental health who has stated, “I see great opportunity to change the trajectory on mental health and addiction in this country, to reduce stigma, and to ensure has the opportunity to achieve their optimal health potential.” For two years, he and former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, along with other advocates, providers, and public sector leaders worked to develop a new approach to addressing challenges patients and families face trying to access and pay for treatment and receiving resources and support to get well. Dr. Satcher and the work of the Institute is focused on exposing and addressing health disparities, particularly issues like sexual and mental health that get ignored in the public sphere by the black community. His leadership in mental health is longstanding and impactful. As Surgeon General, he issued the very first report of a surgeon general on mental health, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General in 1999. In recognition of his significant work and impact, Dr. Satcher was recently awarded an Honorary Doctor of Public Health from Dickinson College.

 

Mr. Jay Barnett

Author: Letters to a Young Queen, Finding Our Lost Kings and Queens: Strategies for Empowering Our Future Kings & Queens, Hello King: Claim Your Throne

Speaker

Creator, Men of Excellence and Women of Excellence Programs

Jay Barnett

Jay Barnett

 Former NFL player Jay Barnett draws from his personal lessons learned and adversities conquered to mentor young men and women on their journeys to manhood and womanhood. After crushing disappointment left him depressed and suicidal, Mr. Barnett realized he needed help coping and getting his life back on track. Rather than walking in denial and remaining in an unhealthy and potentially dangerous situation, he sought help, received treatment and started his road to recovery. Like any worthy warrior, he began telling his story and reaching out to others, particularly teens in disadvantaged situations facing some of the same struggles he had faced. In his work with them, he noticed certain patterns among both the young men and young women that he felt needed special attention. He has created two mentoring/personal development programs to meet those needs: Men of Excellence (TheMeProject) and Women of Excellence (TheWeProject). He speaks to these future leaders about maintaining identity authenticity despite popular trends and pressures, understanding their heritage as kings and queens of their lives and communities, and fighting through depression and emotional challenges. Notably, he’s outspoken regarding emotional vulnerability and attacking stigma associated with seeking treatment and other support for mental health illness. In 2015, he was honored for his work by being selected as a BE (Black Enterprise) Modern Man.

In July 2015 I had the privilege to talk with Jay more specifically about mental health issues and his approach to the work he does.

 Check back for Part 2 of Seven Black Men Leading the Way in Mental Health

Handle With Care: A Conversation with Black Men on Mental and Emotional Health

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

In a democratic society, all voices matter. Individuals and groups can provide insight and clarity to issues that need focus, sustained attention so that meaningful action can take place. When it comes to mental and emotional health, however, it’s often difficult for people to raise their voices. Stigma is real, and folks already dealing with mental or emotional challenges understandably don’t want to add to their fight the embarrassment that comes from being ridiculed or misunderstood. And when it comes to men, take this dynamic and multiply it many times over. But what happens if men are asked, and listened to? Ourselves | Black found out during a powerful conversation with men who are ready to speak and who aren’t afraid to make sure the rest of us hear them.

During this June 2016 Mens Health Month, we continue our exploration of the mental and emotional health of black men and boys (BMB) (read the introduction here) by sharing a moderated dialogue around the theme, Handle With Care: The Secret Inner Lives of Black Men and Boys. Some of the participants’ comments will be what is expected: concern for negative media portrayals of BMB; mention of the persistent health disparities across every measure of health; and the pernicious double standard applied to emotional expression of BMB compared to the expansive and gracious treatment of the same emotions by white men and boys. But some of the discussion will surprise. BMB want to be “listened to just to be listened to”, not listened to solely to give a response (hello moms and wives!). They feel attacked and are concerned that their lives don’t seem to matter—still—in a way that empowers and uplifts them. They want young boys to be socialized in a way that honors their humanity and esteems them by making space for the full spectrum of emotional expression and mental thought. They want to come out of survival mode and move to a place of thriving and flourishing as others seem to have the inherent right to do.

It’s often difficult to authentically hear from people who are perceived as the power brokers, the majority group around whom cultures are formed and for and by whom decisions are made. Feminist critiques of smothering patriarchy aren’t necessarily invalid. It is nonetheless healthy and healing to allow men to speak their minds and hearts. We may think we know, but perhaps we don’t truly understand black men and boys in a way that will bring us together or will mend the rips in the fabric of our families and communities. Yes black men are men, and there certainly does accrue to them a measure of privilege because of their gender. But they are also black, which seems to nullify their privilege in spaces outside the community where they, and the rest of us, have to navigate our livelihood and our existence. So give them an audience and consider what they say they need. Then as we speak our mind, we will depend on their generosity and reciprocity to hear us out, too.

 

 

Participants:

Dr. Erlanger (Earl) Turner, licensed psychologist and researcher. Specializes in diagnosis and treatment of disruptive behavior disorders and is the Director of The Race, Culture, and Mental Health Lab at the University of Houston.

Dr. Erlanger Turner

Dr. Erlanger Turner

Twitter:  @DrEarlTurner

Mr. Walker Tisdale, III, Executive Editor of HealthyBlackMen.org, an online health and fitness resource for men. He holds a Master of Public Health and a Master of Social Work degrees and has worked with the health departments of several major cities, including New York and Chicago.

Walker Tisdale, III

Walker Tisdale, III

Twitter:  @BlkMenUSA

Mr. Richard L. Taylor, Jr., author, speaker, mental illness survivor, and mental health advocate. He has written several books, including Unashamed: The Process of Reconstruction, and most recently, Love Between My Scars.

Richard L. Taylor, Jr.

Richard L. Taylor, Jr.

Twitter:  @TrulyTaylorMade

What Life is Like: An Interview with a Survivor

Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor

The 2016 theme for National Mental Health Awareness Month is Life with a Mental Illness. The goal is to encourage those with mental health conditions to share their experiences. #mentalillnessfeelslike is the social media campaign by which people can tweet or link to videos, raising their voices and coming out of the shadows. In his Presidential Proclamation President Obama states:

This month, we renew our commitment to ridding our society of the stigma associated with mental illness, encourage those living with mental health conditions to get the help they need, and reaffirm our pledge to ensure those who need help have access to the support, acceptance, and resources they deserve

In honor of the theme, and to express our support for our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors who live courageously every day fighting the good fight of wellness, Ourselves | Black reached out to a mental health survivor to hear a first-hand account of a life with mental illness. Initials instead of a name are used to honor the progression of this survivor’s journey as comfort in telling the story increases.

 

OB:  Thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts about living with a mental illness. Did you initially have reservations?

TM: Yes, of course. I thought about it for awhile. Went back and forth. I knew that I could do this without saying who I am, but it still feels a little scary.

OB: So what made you finally agree to do it?

TM:  Figuring what do I have to lose? Not saying anything I don’t think is negative, I just felt like maybe I don’t have to make a big deal out of it. Maybe someone could be helped.

OB:  Do you think you’ve had a mental health condition for a long period of time, or is it something more recent?

TM:  I think it’s been around a long time. That’s part of how it goes. I knew when I was a teenager that I felt depressed a lot. It wasn’t ever really dramatic, just a constant low-level passiveness that I didn’t understand at the time. I just knew that I went along a lot because I didn’t want or think to exert the energy to resist situations. Now I feel like the passiveness was because of a kind of ‘what does it matter’ viewpoint. Plus back then, people didn’t really talk about mental illness per se, so I didn’t have a good reference point.

OB:  Did you think there was something that needed attention, or did you just consider it part of your personality?

TM:  I just thought it was my personality. I still think that’s partially true.

OB:  Have you ever been officially diagnosed with a specific mental health condition?

TM: Yes, at one point I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

OB:  Was that a hard experience?

TM: I felt like I already knew the ‘depression’ part, they just added the ‘clinical’ to it. But as far as my day to day life, I didn’t think it made that big of a difference. I didn’t think it made me any more depressed because they put the word clinical in front of it. But at the time of the diagnosis, I knew that things had gotten pretty serious. I was suicidal and just not wanting to be around any more. Maybe a better way of saying it is that I became neutral about being alive.

OB: Did you feel any shame or embarrassment?

TM: A little but not too much. Since there wasn’t much acknowledgment of those kinds of conditions, and most people just described other people by how they behaved, there wasn’t really a need to feel ashamed of anything. Then again, maybe I just didn’t know any better!

OB:  Were you prescribed medication, and if so, how did you feel about it?

TM:  No, I wasn’t put on medication.

OB:  Fast forwarding to 2016 and the explosion of the visibility of mental health, does this impact what life is like for you?

TM:  I think it’s great to see so many being encouraged to talk about their conditions and what their experiences are. But really, I still feel the struggle the same way. I still feel odd some days because I know I’m having trouble concentrating, or I feel myself being very irritated and angry. Now that I’m older, I also have become more aware of what seems to cause the start of a cycle of depression. I’ve also noticed that in the past few years, anxiety has really increased. That bothers me because I don’t want to have a bunch of conditions. That’s part of how I need to grow more, not be so critical of myself. There are reasons why I’m more anxious, but I still don’t necessarily want to just be ok with it.

OB:  Overall, how do you view things now? Do you feel hopeful?

TM:  I feel committed to continuing to get better, more whole. That’s my goal.

 

As Mental Health Awareness Month winds down, it’s a good time to encourage and support those you know who are living with a mental health condition or substance use disorder. Sometimes the realities of fear, fatigue, and struggle overshadow the need for understanding, patience, and compassion. Let’s all try a little tenderness.

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