Sick in the Head

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Thought For The Day:

“Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t so.” – Lemony Snicket

Question For The Day:

Do you understand mental illness?

Fact: One in four people suffer with mental illness.  You many not believe that, but it’s real.  Not only are there far more people than you think suffering with mental illness, these people are likely active parts of your life. It could be your boss, your next door neighbor, your pastor, or that hyper-efficient entrepreneur that owns your favorite coffee shop.  Now, as you consider those statistics, chew on this. Of those people who suffer with mental illness, women are more likely to suffer with it than men (4 percent compared to 2.7 percent) and African Americans will suffer with it more than Caucasians.  (4 percent compared to 3.1 percent).  This means that the likelihood that you are interacting with a woman, particularly a Black woman, that suffers with a mental health issue is extremely high.  The irony of it all is that when you think about the Black women of today, visions may surface of the super strong, opinionated, all burden bearing, neck-rolling, take no mess, matriarch thanks to mainstream media and Tyler Perry.  But statistically, we are suffering the most and are more likely to commit suicide, become addicted to drugs and alcohol, end up hospitalized or be locked up when symptoms are undiagnosed and untreated.

Some may think a vulnerable Black woman seems like an oxymoron, and we can’t help it if others adopt this misconception.  But it’s when we as Black women attempt to live up to this image, that life becomes unbalanced and emotionally chaotic.   The “big bad Black woman” image has not served us, and in fact may have done more to push people away rather than draw them in.  It’s time to get honest sisters and admit to ourselves and to each other that those of us who favor Esther Rolle more than Cameron Diaz, can also be damsels in distress.  I believe it is this pressure to keep up appearances of unbreakable strength and unfailing ‘courage under fire’ that has so many of us straddling the fence between competent and crazed.  This is also, in my opinion, part of the reason so many Black women seek solace in the church.  For many it likely represents the last safe place to admit weakness.  But even there, the message of Christ is misunderstood and many forget that Christ bears our burdens.  Instead of allowing ourselves to break and ask for help, we may try even harder to prove our infallible faith by striving for perfection in church.  We serve on every board, sing in the choir, teach bible study, and work ourselves to the bone thinking that our healing is in doing more, serving more, and being the perfect Christian.  This is a recipe for a breakdown.  It’s a scary prospect to consider, but what if the most troubled sisters you know are actually the busiest members of your church?

The stigma about mental health issues in our community is disturbing and as a mental health professional, I feel an obligation to say something about it.  Despite being the most likely to have a mental illness, Black women are the least likely to seek treatment.  Only about 7 percent of Black women will seek professional help for any symptoms they experience including suicidal ideation, compared to about 14 percent of the general population.  Our sisters are dying y’all!  Black women are killing themselves everyday and even if they are not pulling a gun on themselves, they are smoking crack, getting blunted, fighting in the street, drinking forties, isolating, overusing pain pills, or otherwise “wilding out” in response to what are often undiagnosed mental health issues.   I’ve had a lot of patients over the last couple of years since I’ve been in my current position.  I’ve probably counseled one to two hundred people but have treated only two Black women in total.  Everybody else will get the help they need, but us?  No, we just pray for deliverance, stuff is all inside and keep bearing the rest of the world’s burdens.  Please know, I am a praying woman.  I believe that prayer changes things.  But I also accept that God uses psychiatrists who can diagnose disorders, chemists who develop psychotropic medications, and counselors who can teach coping strategies.  I know the latter for a fact, because I was called specifically to my work as a social worker.  It is possible that the answers to your prayers for relief may not be at church, but waiting for you at your local mental health center.

Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder among others are real conditions.  And contrary to what people think, it has little to do with your personality or innate ability to manage stress.  It is also not necessarily the result of a troubled upbringing.  Some people were born predisposed to chemical imbalances in the brain and have impairments in the way their brain transfers messages.  If you were born with impairments in the way your body produced insulin or if your heart functioned differently than most, you would be quick to go to a doctor, get diagnosed and seek treatment in order to save your life.  Yet, if the malfunction is occurring in the brain, it’s held to a different standard because, after all,  we’re supposed to be able to control that, right?  None of us are any more able to control how the brain works than the heart, lungs, kidneys, etc.  The only way we can manage any impairment that is going on inside of us is to acknowledge it, follow treatment recommendations, and make the necessary lifestyle changes that can manage symptoms and render us best able to function.  If we don’t, we could die.  Mental illness is no exception.  If you are reading this post and feel that you may be suffering with mental illness, or know someone that is, please get help.    The stigma is played out and it’s time for a fresh perspective.  Having a mental health disorder is not what makes you crazy.  It’s ignoring life threatening symptoms in the name of saving face that’s really sick in the head.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-8255

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