African Americans and Mental Illness


anatomy Why is mental illness such a taboo subject in the African American community? Oftentimes African Americans don’t like to admit that one of our family members, friends or even our self has a mental illness? Instead of acknowledging the problem and getting help for ourselves or helping the person to get the proper care, we begin self diagnosing them.  Somehow, without any real knowledge of mental illnesses we will come to a conclusion of what the person’s problem is, and the many times the conclusion is, they need Jesus. Yes they need Jesus, but they may also need some psychotherapy and medication to help them live with or recover from the illness. Jesus is ok with medication; you can ask him if you need to.

Many African Americans, especially in earlier years, went their entire lives without the proper care for their mental health issues. Everyone in the family would know that something wasn’t quite right with them, but they were never taken to a psychiatrist or even their primary care doctor to find out what the root of the problem was.  They showed signs of an illness, but the family didn’t acknowledge them as signs of a mental illness.  The reasons for families not regarding the illness as a mental disorder were not always negligence or the refusal to admit that someone in their family had a mental illness, many times people just didn’t know. They didn’t know that not all mental illnesses make you hear voices or want to act out in violent rages. They didn’t know that not all mental illnesses require a person to be handicapped and need constant care. Neither did they know that people can recover from mental illnesses.

So with only the view that something was wrong, they allowed them self or people who they were responsible for to go undiagnosed, many for their entire lives.  They prayed for them of course, but no one ever said, I think he/she/you need to go and have this checked out. There may be something the doctor’s can prescribe or there may be some therapy that will really help your situation.

For many black people with mental illnesses the real reason that “something was wrong” was never found. There was no therapy, just saying therapy would bring the family to say that Black people don’t go to therapy, they don’t see psychiatrist…all they need is prayer and Jesus.

Unfortunately for many of those people they lived a lifetime of torment and discomfort because they were never properly diagnosed.

Along with the hushed attitude towards mental illness in the African American community is the hushed attitude towards African Americans and suicide. In some cases they go hand in hand. Not only were the symptoms and signs of the mental illness overlooked or never taken into real consideration, but also the unfortunate belief that black people just don’t commit suicide sometimes ended in tragedy. This refusal or generational belief that mental illness is not a real issue in the black community caused many mentally ill people, who desperately needed help to lose a battle that no one ever acknowledged they were fighting. 

NIMH– National Institute of Mental Health

BPA– Black Psychiatrists of America

MHA– National Mental Health Association

Black Counselors.com

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  1. Wow! I am so glad you are doing this. I just started a social network on Ning on this same subject at http://about-us.ning.com

    I also have a blog at erricajones3.wordpress.com. Come by and check out some my art and poetry. This is my life while I deal with my son’s mental illness as welll.

    I’m on Twitter as well.

    Keep up the great work here.

    e. jones

    • gabrieloneverything
    • December 9th, 2008

    Uggg, you’re going to make me step my game up. Your last three things have been about things in my queue. Great post though. 🙂

  2. Hello there!

    This is such a vitally important issue and I am happy to see that you are willing to “go there”!

    Please feel welcome to drop by my place any time you’d like!

    We are excited to have more brain power at the table!

    (smiles)
    Lisa

  3. Hello there!

    This is such a vitally important issue and I am happy to see that you are willing to “go there”!!

    • KZ
    • December 7th, 2008

    Thanks for addressing this much overlooked issue. I plan to write more on the topic, but here are two of my posts.

    http://athinlinebetweenloveandhate.wordpress.com/2008/11/20/mental-illnesses-and-the-black-community/

    http://athinlinebetweenloveandhate.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/counseling/

    • Wizzy Jr.
    • December 7th, 2008

    Well, if I had to take a stab at this, I’d say it was because it was thought that black folks was crazy for so long, it’s probably a convenient cop out for us. It’s not working so much anymore because, even if we ARE mentally ill, most times, we still gonna get punished for our shit.

    I’m gonna have to agree with the comment before mine. It’s not just BLACK folks. It’s EVERYBODY. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t.

    • thepostmodernsophist
    • December 6th, 2008

    this was spot on mate! I just wanted to add that it is not only the african american community hit by the silence or ignorance towards mental illness. Back home in Somalia, many use to think that mental illness was a form of demonic possession, or some sort of curse. I kid you not. I dont know how much things have changed. Anyway, Cool blog!

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