People in disaffected communities are more likely to experience serious mental health issues.
Stories Erving Jean-Jacques
The stark reality of America’s mental health crisis never hits home quite so hard as when illness affects someone close to us. We may read mountains of books on the subject, talk to mental health professionals, even work in the field of medicine—but nothing can truly prepare us for the emotional toll of seeing a loved one suffer.
My mother was active, healthy, and independent before she was found on a flight of stairs, exposed to the elements, after suffering a stroke on a frigid February night. She broke her vertebrate and ended up paralyzed. I was traumatized. It is frustrating and heartbreaking to witness the abuse my mother goes through because of her illness, the lack of professionalism or basic human empathy she receives, even in her deteriorated state.
My own struggles with my mind became intensified with my mother’s illness, but I neglected to check in with a mental health professional as her condition became apparent. Minor things seemed to be inflated. I was walking a tightrope over a volcano. Despair and anger became my two closest companions, and they reared their heads at the most inopportune moments. I became isolated and plunged into an abyss of self-loathing and rage.
In our culture, if you fall ill, you must be lucky enough to have a support network in place or you face near-certain emotional and financial ruin. Fortunately, I had two important people in my life who didn’t give up on me. With a lot of reading, support, and hard work, I am proud to say I’m finally doing better. I was blessed, but many like me are not as fortunate.
Sadly, mental health is simply not a priority at any level—local, state, or national. In this country, the communities most in need of mental health services are denied care because of systemic bias and indifference. Black and brown people are disproportionately affected by the woeful underfunding of vital mental health resources and dearth of services, rooted in the sordid legacy of white supremacy.
It is then no surprise that people from disaffected communities are the least likely to seek or retain mental health services, even though African Americans are 20 percent more likely than the general population to experience serious mental health problems and more likely to be exposed to factors such as homelessness and violence that increase the risk for developing mental health conditions, according to the US Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. One in four Black Americans will experience a mental disorder at some point.
If people from the Black community would seek out treatment, they would learn that the human mind fundamentally rewires itself to cope after prolonged periods of stress. This can damage the brain, causing disturbing flashbacks, insomnia, emotional numbness, angry outbursts, and feelings of guilt or responsibility. These symptoms, when experienced without context or understanding, can leave us confused, angry, or withdrawn. Only by understanding the root cause of these symptoms can we begin the healing process.
Dealing with these symptoms head on can be overwhelming, and many people choose to ignore the problem at all costs. I experienced the utter uselessness of the options presented to me while pursuing care within the American system, in which bureaucratic inefficiency and systemic bias appear to be the norm for my demographic (a plethora of studies affirm this fact). Is it any wonder people are not fully invested in their recovery?
The reality on the ground is that talking about mental health in the black and brown community is still taboo. That’s a shame. As black and brown people, we should embrace mental health. We need to check in with each other (friends, family, neighbors) because depression can materialize while incognito.
The mental health care system needs more resources, and aggressive studies should be done to target weak points and correct systemic bias. This issue deserves to be front and center as we head into the 2020 election cycle.