Let's Talk #MentalIllness in the Black Community: Why Stigma isn't the problem anymore.
Collectively, we'll all agree that Steve Stephens needed emotional and/or mental health care. Often when things like this happen the conversation about "the stigma and shame" associated with mental illness in the Black community comes up. Mr. Stephens worked in the field...he was a case worker at a behavioral health center. If ANYONE should've felt comfortable seeking help, it should've been him...but he didn't and here's why....
I've served the world in this very space for the past 14 or so years, as a therapist turned self-care advocate for the African American community. I recognize a few lesser discussed things that contribute to our troubled relationship with getting therapy and I'm sharing them with you.
We're are very resilient people. We have a certain "black people magic" that has created incredible strength among us. We can adapt and adjust like no other culture does BUT ALSO like no other culture has had to for survival. Many times we've adapted to wildly dysfunctional systems to maintain normalcy.
The issue is, in our own personal lives, where we SHOULD be able to take off the mask and be ourselves, when it comes to emotions and mental health, WE STILL unwittingly adapt to the dysfunction. We don't get help because we're too comfortable with whatever is wrong. It's NOT a comfortable situation but as per our norm, as the water heats up, we just adjust to the temperature and before you know it, we are in full blown boiling point.
We wax eloquent when things like the Cleveland tragedy with Mr. Godwin happen. Everybody becomes an advocate for emotional wellness and mental health care...WHICH I LOVE-as I do this work daily and appreciate the temporary colleagues. But in that same breath, after many people log off, they re-assume their position in their OWN dysfunction; thinking "that's for them...NOT ME."
All the while, you cry yourself to sleep, are addicted to porn to feel connected to anything, feel trapped in your relationship, are stepping out on your significant other, feel overwhelmed by your job or children or overwhelmed with guilt & shame from your past...OR WHATEVER YOUR ISSUE IS.
You don't have to wait until you're at your wit's end to seek help...or wait until there's a crisis...break the cycle NOW!! FOR YOURSELF IN YOUR OWN LIFE.
EMOTIONAL -VS- MENTAL HEALTH -VS- SPIRITUAL HEALTH
Let's bring a little clarity to this too...emotional health, mental health & spiritual health are not equal and having said that, each requires different tools when broken. A lack of spiritual care can lead to emotional disturbance which can lead to mental illness. BUT every disturbance is not mental illness...and every fix isn't a spiritual one only. You can pray and burn stuff until you're blue in the face but at some point, in the immortal words of Bishop TD Jakes - some things will require your Sweat Equity... alongside your spiritual care. There's work for you to do with a professional.
Instead, we overlook and disrespect emotional and mental distress just waiting on God to do something. Every once in awhile, more often than not, you're going to have to stop trying to exclusively use spiritual tools as a sole means to fix emotional and mental needs. Even the bible says if you have an issue with someone, leave the church house and go handle it with that person (Matt 5:21-26).
WE DON'T KNOW WHERE TO START
As with many issues, the earlier you handle it, the better. Just like your car has an oil change light, we have a "built in oil- change indicator"...OUR EMOTIONS! Instead of ignoring, trying to "let go" of or 'get out of' our emotions, USE them as an indicator that is time to do some work. And if you're not very in tune with your emotions, use your logic. If your oil light in your car is broken but that little oil change sticker says "Next oil change is at 35,000 miles" and you're at 48,000... you'd KNOW, even if the car was seemingly ok, that your understanding of what you see indicates a need for service.
The same goes for you. Your "emotional meter" may be broken - and if you've trained yourself to ignore them for so long, it PROBABLY is. But you can look at the window stickers of your life and see discrepancy. If your relationship ended with the person you loved dearly (even if it's GOOD that it ended) but you are behaving like nothing happened...you should seek help. If your job is REALLY REALLY demanding with crazy deadlines and lazy co-workers and you work long hours, it may even be fulfilling to complete tasks and you may just brush the stress off (since you make no plans to quit)...but this is a "sticker" that you may need to seek out help.
There are a number of indicators and if we'd just listen to our lives, we could offset a lot of mental illness. See a counselor when you FIRST start feeling "some type of way" ....or when the divorce FIRST happens... or when the person first dies or when you FIRST lose the job...don't wait until you're in full blown depression....be preventive and proactive.
IT COSTS TOO MUCH
If you've purchased a $30 meal, pair of shoes, clothes, etc you've got enough to get counseling at the very minimum once per month. Yes, therapy CAN be expensive but its not always. There are community organizations that offer counseling services for free or very low cost. Not to mention, if you have insurance, it likely covers therapy services.
Finally, I even offer an online, non-invasive, self-paced life class to help you LEAN INTO the counseling world. Its not designed to replace professional counseling...its designed as an opportunity to start unpacking your baggage, recognizing the needs so that you'll know what to go into therapy for when you decide to do it. Click here for more information about that service. My point, money isn't as much an issue as you think....where there's a will, there's a way.
THERAPY "STIGMA" IS A MYTH
....at least partially
EEEEVERYBODY becomes an avid supporter of mental and emotional health when tragedy happens. We encourage one another, for the most part, to seek counseling if we need it. So while the stigma is long from gone,its also not AS taboo as it once was.
So I venture to say, it's not a lack of awareness or extreme stigma anymore that is holding the brothers and sisters back from mental and emotional care. Its personal aversion.
It's now a lack of personal responsibility, reflection and action.
Mr. Stephens knew the power of therapy...so much so, he worked in that field. He did what many of you are doing, ignored his emotions and/or life indicators and ran out of oil...reached the boiling point and committed this heinous act!!
Mr. Godwin's son said in a video today, "if you watch the video [of his father being murdered] get something out of it... don't just watch it and keep going. If you need help, get help."
I concur. Start unpacking your baggage --> Click here.
#TakeAction Stop thinking "that's for THEM."
#GetOut of your own personal emotional prison....TODAY!