Mental illness has always been taboo in the African American community. It’s something that we just don’t speak about, and if we do we are told to pray about it or go speak to a minister. Mental health is real. It does not just go away and just like bad credit or losing weight, it can’t just be prayed away.
The Office of Minority Health reports that poverty level affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are 3 times more likely to report psychological distress. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, African Americans and other diverse communities are underserved by the nation’s mental health system. They also report that one out of three African Americans who need mental health care receives it. Compared to the general population, African Americans are more likely to stop treatment early and are less likely to receive follow-up care.
African Americans often turn to the church to deal with mental issues. About 85% of African Americans associate themselves with some religious capacity. There is nothing at all wrong with seeking God and Godly counsel for problems that we face as Christians, but there is a problem when we avoid receiving the medical attention we need because we are misinformed or incorrectly taught that doing so somehow means we lack trust or faith in God.
This might be because psychologists, therapists and the like tend to give what some would consider “worldly” advice and as a part of their profession, do not give spiritual counsel or speak on spiritual matters, as that is not their expertise.
Proper diagnosis and treatment is needed in the case of mental health. “Many believe that God will take care of their problems, and many of them may come to ministers and pastors for counseling,” said Dr. Taunya Tinsley, an alumna of Duquesne University’s counselor education and coordinator of the church’s counseling ministry. “However, many persons may need more assistance beyond the ministers and pastors training that may include mental health counseling from licensed and trained professionals.”
But both spirituality and mental health care are paramount in an individual’s overall health. Studies do show that those with some religious affiliation are better able to cope with stress and some traumatic situations. To this end, some black churches have partnered with mental health programs to bring appropriate information to their congregations. The fact is that Pastors need professional training to deal with mental issues, such as bipolar and schizophrenia. Dr. Tinsley and her colleagues believe that offering Christian based mental health programs are another option.
Here are some scary statistics from the Mental Health America:
- 63 percent of African Americans believe that depression is a personal weakness, this is significantly higher than the overall survey average of 54 percent.
- Only 31 percent of African Americans believed that depression was a “health problem.”
- African Americans were more likely to believe that depression was “normal” than the overall survey average.
I’ve seen firsthand what mental illness can do to a family. It is a serious matter. As I write this I think of an African American teenage boy I know who cuts himself and hears voices telling him to kill himself. It’s not something that we should look over or take lightly. Mental illness is real.
There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help. We can get help from the church and see a psychologist. Most jobs offer free counseling programs. Local health departments may offer these services as well.
As a college student, counseling services were offered at no cost. I saw a therapist for an entire year and I must say that it helped me tremendously. I was able to sort out most of the trauma and abuse that I experienced as a child and young adult. I was even better able to forgive after having gone to counseling because I was able to move past the hurt.
If you need help, need to talk to someone, or have feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, get help! Faith in God does not mean that we do not do the practical things. Remember faith without works is dead. If you were diagnosed with breast cancer, you would fast and pray as you go through the cancer treatments. The same is true in mental health, you fast and pray while you still get the medical help you need. If you have a heart problem you would see a cardiologist. If you have a decaying tooth you would see a dentist and if you have a mental health problem, you should see a psychologist. God wants you alive and well!
Other things you can do to stay mentally fit are too become involved in some type of physical activity. Being physically fit can very well have a positive effect on your mental health.
African Americans. Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives. American Psychiatric Association.
African American Communities and Mental Health. Mental Health America.
Mental Health and African Americans. Office of Minority Health.
Open Session to Address Mental Health Needs Within the Black Church. Duquesne University Newsroom. 11 Nov. 2009