4 Dope Mental Health Media Scholars Team Up To Break Stigma
May is Mental Health Awareness Month
April 30, 2017 at 3:26 am
It can be argued that May is one of the most important months of the year. It’s likely the first time of the year that your grill gets to live out its glory, the month when cousin RayRay finally graduates, and of course, the opportunity to outdo your siblings for the most outlandish display of affection for mom dukes. For us–a collective of Black mental health professionals–May is also important because it is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Observed since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month is a time to be intentional about increasing awareness of, educating about, and–of particular importance to our community–reducing stigma around mental health.
For a number of reasons, there is a great deal of stigma around mental health in the Black community. This stigma presents itself in a number of ways, including silence about our issues, blaming ourselves for mental health problems, and avoiding seeking help. Unfortunately, the research on these approaches to mental health care shows negative outcomes, like mental health problems that last longer and are more severe compared to our White counterparts.
Despite important steps within the Black community to change the narrative around mental health (like #YouGoodBro on Twitter and free faith-based services, work remains to be done. That’s why these three mental health initiatives took a F.U.B.U. (much love to Daymond John and Solange) approach to bridge some of the unresolved gaps in mental health awareness and stigma reduction. Hear what each has to say below:
Our Mental Health Minute
Drs. Riana “Ri” Anderson and Shawn “CT” Jones always independently dreamed of being psychologists and serving Black folks because of our community’s lack of service access, use, and quality care. We met at the Black Graduate Conference in Psychology in 2011 and have been collaborating on research and educational initiatives ever since. We research similar concepts on how Black families prepare their children for the racial world around them (check out Ri’s EMBRace and CT’s ROOTED programs), but also realized that our 30-page research articles weren’t actually getting to the populations we love and serve. We wondered – how can we make our research and other psychological concepts come alive? We thought that videos would be a perfect venue for quick, relatable, and informative products that would not only provide mental health education, but also shift our community's health behaviors. With a goal of one minute (*cough* two/three *cough*) infotainment videos, we developed Our Mental Health Minute in 2014 to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health care in the black community, heighten mental health literacy, and provide access to mental health resources. You can interact with our content to answer questions from the “session”, leave us feedback for what you want to see next, and interact with other viewers to create community around given topics. We are Black clinical psychologists who want to improve our community’s mental health care with just one minute for your mind!
Eustress, Inc. was born out of Rwenshaun Miller’s desire to bring awareness to the importance of acknowledging, improving and preserving mental health in the Black community, a topic often marked by stigma and denial. In 2006, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and I struggled with what that meant and how to effectively cope with it. Given my own take on mental health stigma and denial, I consistently self-medicated with alcohol instead of seeking professional treatment. This resulted in three attempts to die by suicide and then I finally decided enough was enough. I received the treatment that I desperately needed, but I also wanted to help others who were suffering in silence. It is difficult to simply tell someone “you need to see a therapist” without them becoming defensive, so I decided to share my own story by blogging and speaking to let others know that I have been there and no one has to fight alone.
The word eustress (pronounced yoo-stress) is stress that is deemed healthful or giving one the feeling of fulfillment. At Eustress, Inc., we start conversations about mental health with members of the Black community at large, paying special attention to students, young adults, and athletes. In these conversations, we help people acknowledge negative stressors they may face and the impact they have on mental health.
TalkNaija.org was founded by Nigerians for Nigerians and is a non-profit organization aimed at building a community to humanize and destigmatize mental illness within the Nigerian community here and abroad. We aim to do this by sharing people’s stories of their own journey with mental health, dispelling myths through guest experts, providing resources for those struggling (and for their support systems), and encouraging people to seek treatment. When silence thrives, darkness festers. Talking brings light and freedom. TalkNaija strives to freedom.
There is supposedly an old African proverb that states, “he who eats calamity, shares it with his family”. Meaning, if you have a problem, then everyone in your family must also deal with the problem. For many Africans, Nigerians in particular, our families encompass our community. Our community shapes our beliefs and actions. When our community looks down upon something, we tend to do the same, even if it is at the expense of our well-being. For too long, we have seen mental illness as a White man’s problem and counseling as a White man’s solution despite the fact that, across the globe and within Nigeria, we have all either struggled or know someone who has struggled with their mental health. Unfortunately, there is a powerful stigma that says if you talk about your mental health struggles, you are weak, “mad,” and incapable of living a full life – we begin to internalize shame. Stigma creates distance between those who need help and those they need support from. Essentially, stigma breeds silence, and this silence increases suffering. The only way to combat this silence is to talk about our issues in safe and open spaces within our community. In a country where community is so important, the need for support and help extends to the entire society.
This month, in the midst of celebrating and remembering, between graduation brunches and Memorial Day cookouts, we encourage you to 1) reflect on your thoughts and feelings about mental health, 2) talk with one another, including family and friends, and 3) continue the conversations in spiritual, academic, and organizational spaces, so that we can collectively re-write the narrative on mental health and well-being in our communities.
***Join us this month on May 16 at 7pm for a Twitter Forum on Mental Health in the Black community. Details can be found here.
Contact the initiatives: