May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The mind and body are not disconnected so we can definitely say that there is no health without mental health. During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, this month takes on a whole new meaning. Even before the COVID-19, millions of Americans were affected by mental illness. African Americans with lower income, encountering homelessness, and fighting substance abuse are at higher risk for poor mental health. According to www.nami.org, 1 in 5 United States (U.S.) adults experience mental illness and 1 in 25 experience serious mental illness. Youth are impacted as well with 17% having a mental health condition. 50% of all lifetime mental illness starts by the age of 14.
Depression is the most common mental illness in the U.S. and has been the leading cause of disability worldwide. Anxiety, depression, and domestic violence have all increased amid COVID-19. Screening tools from Mental Health America for mental health conditions www.mhascreening.org, can offer a more formal way of determining if you have problems.
“At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg, or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.” Michelle Obama
Mental Health Stigma in the African American Community
We know that there is stigma around mental illness in the community in general and especially the Black community. There is a longstanding belief that mental health concerns are taboo for several reasons – “we ain’t crazy” and “we ain’t weak.” This can make seeking treatment a challenge. However, we have seen the numbers going up for African Americans seeking treatment since we reviewed this issue a few years ago. We were excited to see that survey respondents regarding the CBHC Resource Directory found the mental health pieces and resources most helpful. However, only about 30% of those needing help seek treatment and there are still gaps relative to the U.S. average in seeking therapy. There is still much work to be done.
The fear of personally contracting COVID-19 and illness/deaths among people we know, coupled with racism in our Nation, adds additional stressors which can contribute to poor mental health. When we look at the case of the young African American, Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed for “running while Black”, this has created lots of emotional turmoil for the Black community. We all take his death to heart as if he was our son, brother, cousin, or friend. We get stressed and sometimes depressed. With these things happening repeatedly in our community, it creates mental distress that may become mental illness in some.
Warning Signs of Mental Illness
Everyone can feel down, blue, lonely on occasion. COVID-19 certainly has contributed. What are the signs suggesting mental illness? NAMI provides these common warning signs of mental illness. Be sure to seek professional help if you are showing these signs.
Spotlight on Black Women
Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) had an informative webinar on their Black and Well TV, Episode 5 @ https://coronavirus.bwhi.org/black-and-well-tv/. Go to the link to see the program in its entirety. They mentioned that a recent Essence magazine article entitled, Impact of COVID-19 on Black Women’ Study showed that 63% of women surveyed stated their mental health had been negatively impacted.
Although BWHI focuses on women, they gave some pearls of wisdom that are useful for all and are worth sharing:
“It is okay to not be okay.”
Never be ashamed about mental illness.
Black women ask for help. Let go of control.
Depression doesn’t look any particular way.
NO, is a complete sentence.
Self-compassion is hard and scary. Be kind to ourselves. Honor who we are. We should do it more.
Be intentional about laughter.
Switch up your routine.
BWHI mentioned these resources: Therapyforblackgirls.com, therapyforblackmen.org, Psychology Today list of therapists.
Ways to Manage Your Mental Health
As a community – we need to de-stigmatize mental health, be in the know about the signs of mental illness, create a safe environment for African Americans to freely talk about mental health and illness, raise up more Black psychologists, and encourage people to seek professional health if you see cracks in their mental health.
- Adopt the mantra, there is no health without mental health.
- Know that mental illness is a real disease and a real concern.
- Take measures to reduce your stress – 7-8 hours of sleep, eat a balanced meal, try mindfulness, diaphragmatic breathing, burning candles, praying.
- Limit alcohol.
- Limit your COVID-19 input from social media and television.
- Know the signs of mental illness and get help early.
- Know that you can have faith and still need a therapist.
- If you need a therapist seek out one that is tailored to your cultural needs.