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The Mental Health Taboo In The Black Community

Mental health has been getting a lot of attention in recent years. There was a time when the mere mention of someone being “a little touched in the head”, as black people used to say, was something that most just did not do. Nobody wanted to deal with the reality that someone that they loved was not “normal”. This mental health taboo still exists in the black community today. Though people don’t really like to talk about it, failing to acknowledge and address the issues surrounding mental illness leads to even great problems.

Nobody Wants Mental Illness In Their Family

There were a number of factors that contributed to why the Black community did not want to “accept” the reality that someone was actually suffering from mental illness or strained mental health. One of the reasons is that, while they know mental illness exists, they simply don’t want it to be in THEIR family. No one wants to be the person who passed the mental illness on or be the one who has to claim a history of mental illness in their lineage. It may sound insignificant, but it’s a very real concern. With mental health issues comes some sort of accountability, and people don’t want to take that on.

Mental Health Issues Always Means Crazy

Another reason that mental health is a taboo is the fact that the person experiencing difficulties can become unpredictable, uncontrollable, and dangerous. With all of that comes a great deal of embarrassment and, for some, a feeling a helplessness. This can affect and cause conflicts in other relationships, in the family and in the community at large. There is an inherent stigma associated with someone being “crazy”. In the black community, because of limited education around mental health, most will assume that any reference to a mental health problem means that someone has the most extreme personality disorder. In other words, all mental health issues equate to schizophrenia. Yes, we know that it’s an uninformed view. But, it’s just what people have been conditioned to believe.

Fear and More Drug Problems

The black community at large already deals with more than their fair share of problems relative to drug use and a historic distrust of medical professionals. Now, couple mental illness with a need for more drugs…the mind-regulating kind of drugs, that are supposed to offset the unpredictable behavior, and you now introduce an even greater fear. The question then becomes, “What if So-and-So doesn’t take their meds?” So, what do many do? They don’t ever get properly diagnosed, and as a result, they never get the help that they need. Their irrational, unpredictable behavior will generally lead them to a place where they will get minimal help…a correctional facility. Nobody wants their family member to be imprisoned….unless they are acting out. Then, that will usually become the only recourse.

People Just Accept “Off” Behavior

Unfortunately, in the black community, the behavior associated with mental illness becomes accepted or written off as “eccentric” behavior. Because of that failure to handle the problem, the rest of the community that has to deal with the unpleasant ramifications of that strained mental health. Many will live in fear, terror, and shame because of this.

We Can Overcome The Mental Health Taboo

Here are some ways that we can work together to overcome the mental health taboo that we have inherited from our ancestors:

Education is key.

Instead of feeling defeated and believing that we cannot do any better, we have to get educated about mental health issues and share that education.

Encourage family members to seek professional help.

No one benefits from avoiding the problem. Collectively, the black community has to be willing to deal with it head on for the greater good.

Don’t blame mental illness on the family.

No one can control the genes that they have been given. So, we have to stop trying to “call out” the other family members on another member’s mental state. Consider how they must feel having to deal with it on a daily basis. Try not to add to their stress.

Be mindful.

Be willing to contact the family or proper authorities if someone with mental illness is doing something that could endanger themselves or others. Don’t turn a blind eye. If you see something, say something. It’s only right and it’s only fair for the community at large.

Offer help.

If it’s a mother with children, help her. When you see someone’s brother living on the street, help him. It’s fair that you may not be comfortable reaching out. So, let the family know that you have seen the person. You never know what they are going through. But, knowing that others care could make a major difference.

Mental Illness Is Not A One Description Fits All Thing.

There are many faces of mental illness. Remember that mental health issues can be anything from a mother’s postpartum depression after childbirth to a recovering addict’s depression to a veteran’s post traumatic stress disease. So, don’t be so quick to judge and “diagnose”. Be patient with those suffering and never forget that their fight is very hard. Unlike a physical fight with someone else, they may live a daily fight within themselves.


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