Imagine waking up in a panic, sweat dripping from your face. You are unsure of where you are or who you are. All of a sudden, you hear a voice calling your name even though you’re home alone. This has never happened before. What would you do? Most would keep it to themselves.
According to Sa’uda Dunlap, Assistant Director of Social Work at Kings County Hospital Center, the stigma of mental health in the African- American community is a major deterrent for seeking treatment.
“I’ve been treating people for 6+ years and it is at the top of the list when I explore concerns consumers and families have about treatment. Many African Americans fear that they will be labeled “crazy” or will be “locked up.” As a clinician, I use my initial contacts with consumers and families to address fears of being involuntarily hospitalized by explaining the difference between typical mental health challenges and “being crazy,’ including the role of insight and self-efficacy.”
Family can be a great support system but they can also be judgmental and the reason for the stigma. This largely occurs in the African-American community. With roots grounded in religion, many view it as something that should not be discussed.
A recent podcast on Huffington Post’s website asserts that over 66% of Protestants have never heard a sermon about mental health. The lack of education in the church community and in the African-American community is a key issue for the stigma in mental health.
Open communication about mental health is imperative in eradicating the stigma that prevents many African Americans from receiving treatment.
Unfortunately, Dunlap does not think elimination is possible.
“To some degree, stigma will remain–so I’m very hesitant to say that it can be eliminated…continued education about mental illness is important and can help to reduce stigma. One must be aware of the misinformation and stereotypes that are out there with regards to mental illness. I suggest that when a consumer is faced with stereotypes/ misinformation or find themselves thinking about them, they should try to remind themselves that they are not true.”
Being in treatment does not only mean medication or an inpatient stay in a psych ward. It means addressing family issues, problems on the job, or even suppressed childhood abuse.
Of course, chemical imbalances, drug use and other organic stimulants may cause mental illness and may require medication but a lot of times those who are diagnosed are just hurting and require some understanding.
Early treatment can mean a normal life for patients suffering with mental illness. As a family member it is okay to sit down with the loved one and just ask, “What is going on?” Avoid judgmental words like, “crazy” or “stupid.” Offer to go to a counseling session with them to show support.
If you are a person who feels like something may be wrong, don’t be afraid to discuss it with a doctor. In order to ensure total body health, the mind has to be taken care of as well.