A Florida A&M mental health organization strives to bring awareness to the college community and specifically works to discredit social stigmas attached to mental illnesses within the African American community.
Active Minds works worldwide to spread the message of mental health and fighting stereotypes associated with it. The FAMU chapter serves as the 200th chapter within the Active Minds organization.
Since its chartering in spring 2009, the members of the FAMU chapter have noticed a specific distance from members of the African American community when dealing with mental illnesses and seeking professional help.
“I believe many African-Americans think that reaching out for help with mental issues means that you are “crazy” or whatever you are going through can be talked about with someone close to you,” said Aisha Bute, secretary of the FAMU Active Minds Chapter, a fourth year student from Hollywood, Fla. “There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help so that someone can help you deal with your issues. Seeking professional help does not make you crazy, it makes you a person who wants to make sure that you are mentally healthy.”
“I do believe that we, as African Americans, would be willing to seek help if we knew more about mental illnesses and their symptoms.” said vice president Aundrea Collins, a third year psychology/biology student from Atlanta. “We will not seek help unless we know that we need to be helped”
President Mariah Williams, a political science student from Pompano Beach Fla., believes that younger people in general are insecure and shy about seeking help due to the misconceptions of mental illness. She also believes African Americans disapproval of seeking out professional help is a testament to their cultural religious values.
“The African American community is less likely to seek help due to the strong belief in religion.” Williams said. “Our culture is unique. The more you educate African Americans about mental and behavioral health, the more likely they are to seek help.”
When asked her response to those who may suggest praying away mental illness verses seeking professional help, Williams focuses on utilizing the tools granted to college students who may suffer a mental illness.
“It’s not a crime to get help.” Williams said. “God wants peace for his children and the best thing you can do for yourself is to be optimistic about treatment and seek help. It is said that faith without work is dead so students should visit the Universities life coach and or counseling services.”
The FAMU Active Minds organization hopes to correct the misconceptions regarding mental illness. One in every four college students suffers from mental illness which includes anxiety, depression, and stress – issues many college students have experienced.
“The biggest misconception about mental illness is that people are considered crazy when they reach out for help.” Said Williams. “They are also called weak in faith or non- believers of God. I always tell people having a mental Illness is associated with genetics and sometimes drug usage. It doesn’t make you any less than anyone else.”
With such a high statistic of college students affected by mental illnesses, it is common to be personally affected or notice signs of mental illness in a friend.
“Some signs you may see in a friend that could result in being mental illness is a sudden lack of energy, anger, irritability, change in weight and eating habits, becoming isolated, anxiety and changes in work performance,”Bute said. “
She suggests that you point out a change you see in their behavior and ask if there is any way you can help. “Do not be judgmental and let them know that if there is a problem they deserve to be helped. Motivate them to want to see a positive change in their situation.”
For more information on how to seek out help for mental illness visit Sunshine Manor, located on FAMU’s campus to receive free counseling services.