Mental illness plagues blacks


Mental illnesses don’t discriminate. The African-American community is not spared from the trauma of suicide, depression and anxiety. Yet, many are unaware of these consequences of mental illness.

               According to research conducted by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites and are less likely to receive treatment. But why are African-Americans less likely to receive treatment? 

Yolanda Bogan, associate professor and director of Sunshine Manor and Counseling Services at Florida A&M, said their are few reasons why the problems prosist. 

 Bogan said poor communication is one of the main problems the Black community faces when it comes to treating mental illness.

African Americans can be distrustful of medical care, and some prefer treatment from African-American health care professionals.

The majority of blacks also turn to family members who, unfortunately, are ignorant of mental illness. The result is a lasting cultural misconception that African-Americans do not suffer from mental illness.

Bogan also believes sole reliance on the church for diagnosis and treatment of mental illness may contribute to the lack of awareness. 

“We have deep spiritual beliefs,” she said. “Those beliefs have to be reconciled. You’re not being disloyal to your faith by seeking counseling.”

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services also reported that economic status is a major factor in the previlence of mental illness. 

Poverty leaves African-Americans three times more likely to suffer from a form of psychological distress compared to those over twice the poverty level.

Paul Knoll, director of the Recovery Center at Tallahassee Memorial Health Center, said money decides whether African-Americans seek treatment.

“There’s a lot of unemployment,” said Knoll. “A lot of people are uninsured or underinsured. They don’t have access to Medicare or Medicaid.” 

Erica Starling know s all to well of how mental illness can devestate a family. The principal of Gadsden Elementary Magnet School, she dealt with the  loss of her son Torrie Williams when he died of suicide two years ago at age 21.

Starling, who organized a walk to raise awareness about suicide in the black community last month,  urges parents to keep a close eye on their children so they can spot symptoms of depression. 

“Always take the time to listen and see what they are saying,” she said. “See if they’re crying out for help.”

Depression is the most prominent mental illness in the African-American community. Depression affects African-American men and women equally. However, black women are more likely to receive treatment, according to Bogan.

African-American men had higher rates of depression-related suicide – more than five times that of women in 2009 – because they use more “lethal means.” 

Increased stress, disrupted sleep and food patterns, lack of a support system and negative relationships all contribute to mental illness on campuses. 

Knoll expressed his adoration of the measures FAMU and other colleges around Tallahassee have taken to educate students of mental disease and campus counseling centers.

“It’s all about education,” he said. “I love the health fairs at FAMU and think it’s a great way for students to get information.”

Bogan and Knoll admittedly believe those suffering can combat mental illness through exercise, a healthy diet, education, meditation, spirituality, medication, effective time management and acquiring positive support from peers and therapy.

“Our slogan is: Let’s talk about it,” said Bogan. “Just talking to someone makes a difference.”