Every year, about 42.5 million American adults or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States suffers from some mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. This 2012 data, compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), also indicates that approximately 9.3 million adults, or about 4 percent of those Americans ages 18 and up, experience “serious mental illness” – that is, their condition impedes day-to-day activities, such as going to work.
My mother was mentally ill.
My mother was mentally ill.
My mother was mentally ill.
There, I said it. For years I wouldn’t utter it to a soul. I didn’t want people to know that my mother heard voices. I didn’t want them to know that at one point the voices got so loud she couldn’t keep a job and we lived off the money she received from child support, which pretty much guaranteed our poverty. She refused to acknowledge her mental illness and therefore, refused to seek counseling. She became a recluse. I am grateful to my mother for all she did in spite of her illness (raising me to be wonderful!) but at times I think how much better her/our quality of life could have been if she had sought help. I often wondered, why was it so hard?
When news of the suicide of legendary comedian Robin Williams broke many of us were sent reeling. You have to wonder what could have possibly caused one of the most hilarious men to ever walk the earth to sink into such despair that he would end his own life. Didn’t he know how many people loved him? Didn’t he know how many people would miss him? Couldn’t he have just looked at some of his old material and laughed it away. If only it were that simple. I wanted to do something on mental illness and asked mental health counselor Brandy J. Flynn to contribute. Although she focuses primarily on African Americans, I want all who read this to know that if you are battling a mental illness you have nothing to be afraid of. With counseling and possibly medication you can live a better life.
Keeping it to Ourselves: The Taboo of Counseling
Within the culture of African Americans, mental health is usually difficult to discuss. This lack of open dialogue is the reason why many of us have generations of mental health issues and dysfunctions within the family. Now do not get me wrong, this is not to say that all African Americans are against counseling, but a vast number are. But why does the African American culture feel that counseling is taboo? There are three reasons that could explain why.
1. Always keep your business to yourself.
Within the culture of African Americans, it has been embedded to us that home business is home business. So you can imagine that when one is going through trials and tribulations, they feel that they have to keep it to themselves. It is not to say that this is what they want to do, but they feel that if they choose to talk to someone that they will be labeled as being weak amongst their peers. Some even feel that if they go to a professional that they are weak-minded and cannot deal with life. They feel that may be labeled as crazy and will become doped up on meds.
2. All you have to do is pray about it.
Religion is a large part of African American culture. When we are going through trials and tribulations in life many of us feel that the cure to the issue is to just pray to the Lord and read a few Bible verses. God will fix it with no outside help. It has been embedded within many of us that if professional help is sought there is no faith in God. It is also embedded that if someone has a mental health disorder that it is nothing but the devil and it needs to be rebuked by constant prayer, the laying on of hands, faith in God, etc. Although many churches across the nation are beginning to be more vocal about the benefits of clinical counseling and not merely spiritual counseling. There is a place for both and counselors that specialize in spiritual mental health counseling are becoming more common. Yet, there are religious leaders that still spread the word that the best cure is to rely on the teachings of the Bible.
3. There is no one to identify with.
It’s can be difficult to open up to people that you don’t you know. It’s especially hard when that person does not resemble or identify with you. In the counseling field, the minority races are a minority in the field. With the lack of representation for the African Americans within the field, it is hard for the African American be at ease and honest about needing counseling. They may feel that those in the field may not identify with their social issues and possibly judge them in a negative manner.
As long as the African American culture holds on to these taboos as the truth, the more people within our race will be left to battle with mental health issues that could lead to loss of life. We must learn to open up our hearts and our mouths to seek out the help that we need so that we can be saved and learn to either end the illness or successfully manage it. If not, we will continue to lose love ones and left wondering why they never received the help they needed. Repeat after me, it’s okay to get help.
National Help Hotlines:
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Suicide & Crisis Hotline
Suicide Prevention – The Trevor HelpLine
(Specializing in gay and lesbian youth suicide prevention).
Brandy J. Flynn is a mental health counselor that also blogs about mental health issues and life perspective issues with the focus of athletes and entertainers. You can read her blogs at www.brandyjflynn.wordpress.com.