How I’m Breaking The Stigma Of Mental Health In The Black Community
With so many concerning factors that threaten the mental state of Black men, none is more concerning than the stigma that surrounds mental health itself.
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It feels like 20 years ago when Donald Trump shocked the world and became the 45th President of the United States. Fear, anxiety and a feeling of uncertainty loomed greatly within the Black community after Trump’s upset victory over Sen. Hilary Clinton. The last four years has been a detriment to the mental health of the Black community. Unarmed police killings, the empowerment of white supremist (or “very fine people,” as the president once referred to them), the undertone of racism throughout Trump’s presidency, along with his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, is enough for anyone to seek therapy.
With so many concerning factors that threaten the mental state of Black men, none is more concerning than the stigma that surrounds mental health itself. Communities of color may be at higher risk for poor mental health, because of the reluctance to recognize the need for help from a physician or therapist.
If you ask many in the African American community to use two words to describe our story and history, many may say our story is one of perseverance and resilience. Some may go a step further to think if we could survive slavery and Jim Crowe, we surely can survive sadness or anxiety, and it serves as a sign of weakness to think otherwise. But mental illness is much more complicated than sadness or anxiety. Take Post – Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for instance, a disorder that is associated with anxiety and occurs when a person has gone through or witnessed a horrific and frightening traumatic event. If you focus on the killing of George Floyd alone, the graphic and heartless video that went viral on social media, that would be enough to leave many of us with PTSD.
Mental illness is a result of environmental factors and genetics. Genetics is the study of how traits and risk for disease are inherited from parents to their children. Thinking about that leads me to wonder, are we currently experiencing mental illness that has been passed down from our forefathers from slavery, or even more recently through the Jim Crowe era?
Dr. Rachel Yehuda, who is the professor of psychiatry and the director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, conducted a epigenetics study, a study that revealed that traumatic experiences can change genes, and those same genes that now include PTSD can be passed down to offsprings. Taking the results of Dr. Yehuda’s research into account, we are currently functioning with trauma that dates as far back as the 1600s, and that's not good. If you look at it in that context, the mental health of Black men should be a high priority moving forward.
Racial injustices have been a hindrance on Black males, and that single hindrance has influenced the votes of African American males this election cycle. As I sat on pins and needles, two days after election day, waiting to see if it would be Donald Trump or Joe Biden, on a scale of one to 10, my anxiety was at a 30. I lost count of how many times I had to conduct breathing exercise to get my anxiety in check. I’m clinically diagnosed with Bipolar 2, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and IED (Intermittent Explosive Disorder). I’m not writing this from a soapbox perspective, I’m speaking from experience.
Before receiving treatment for my mental illness, my life was in shambles. I conquered a 13-year cocaine addiction, and this month I will celebrate five years sober. It was only this year when my life began to fall into place. This year I mustered the courage to seek treatment for some of the alarming symptoms I begin to display. I began therapy, taking advice from a life coach and was prescribed medication to adjust my mood. My quality of life began to improve drastically.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, adult African Americans are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult white Americans. Despite this, African Americans are less likely than white Americans to seek treatment, and more likely to end treatment prematurely. The poverty level also affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are twice as likely to report psychological distress.
In the state of Florida, college football is a religion. Four days after the election, my Saturday began like any other Saturday in the fall. I began to prepare for 12 hours of nonstop football — until the news interrupted the broadcast. Joe Biden was projected the 46th President of the United States. Happy, exuberant and on top of the world, I still couldn't deny the fact that, in my opinion, the trauma of racial injustices will not come to end with a Joe Biden victory. So where do we go from here?
I’m a firm believer in it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to what happens to you. No one can be more concerned with your mental health than you. This year's election results are a great relief, but the power of dealing with trauma and improving the way you deal with mental illness is in your hands.