Mental Health Platform
The NCBW RMA Chapter proposes to aggressively develop an awareness campaign about the causes, symptoms and treatment of mental health issues.
African Americans account for approximately 25% of the mental health needs in this country, though they only make up 11-12% of the national population. (Black Women and Mental Health) Rates of mental health problems are higher than average for Black women because of psychological factors that result directly from their experience as African Americans in America – these include, racism, cultural alienation, violence and sexual exploitation as well as socio-economic factors.
EnvironmentalSources of Mental Health Problems
Financial problems (long and short term), health problems, loss of loved ones are all sources of stress, worry, and sadness. Everyone has stressful periods and feeling sad, worried or anxious for a little while is normal, but extended periods of experiencing these emotions can be signs of depression or anxiety disorders. In a report published by the National Institute of Health , it states that most women believed that their causes of mental health issues stemmed from experienced prolonged periods of family-related stress and social stress, including trauma, and violence. The literature supports the contention that African Americans in low-income, urban communities are at high risk for exposure to traumatic events and physical and sexual abuse, all of which are associated with the onset of post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression. (NIH) Work related stressors, racism, sexual harassment and discrimination lend to the increased incidents of mental health issues among African American women. (NIH)
Attitudes Toward Mental Health
It historically and is presently been difficult to treat mental health problems in African American communities, especially among women. Women tend to minimize the serious nature of their problems. Many believe that their symptoms are “just the blues” and are not proactive in addressing or changing their condition. The other issue is the stigma attached to mental health problems within the African American community and culture. Many mental issues are seen as a sign of personal weakness or a character flaw, not as a disease or sickness. Many researchers focusing on this issue have found a long history of negative attitudes towards mental illness and a very high degree of stigma associated with it (National Mental Health Association – NMHA, 1998) In a 1981 study, it was found that African Americans perceived persons hospitalized for mental illness as different and inferior to normal (normal being relative) people. (NIH) A 1990’s public opinion poll showed that 63% of African Americans believed depression was a personal weakness, and only 31% believed it was a health problem (NMHA). In addition, women largely believed that they were not susceptible to depression and that those that were are described as “weak-minded, in poor health, having a troubled spirit, and lacking self-love”. (NIH)
African American women cope with mental issues, by not addressing them, and turning to their church, family or other persons they believed to be close confidants. A study conducted in 1996 found that informal support networks, religiosity, avoidance were the largest groupings of coping mechanisms. African Americans had an overwhelming affinity to believing that “prayer changes things”. The use of professional mental health services compared to whites is extremely low. Only about 7% of African American women with symptoms of mental illness ever seek treatment.
The RMA Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women wants to be a voice for those who suffer in silence and understands the need to change the conversation about African American women and mental illness. First, we must educate the community that mental illness is a disease like diabetes and cancer, and that those who suffer from mental health issues are, one, not being punished for some wrong-doing; are not weaker or less-than; are not possessed with some unalienable or un-godly spirit; and it is a condition that is treatable with therapy and sometimes drugs, like any other disease (a condition of being ill-at-ease).
As sisters in the Diaspora of African people’s, we are bound to and given a charge to advocate, serve and take care of those who are not able to do so for themselves. If one of our sister-friends suffer then we all suffer, our children suffer and our communities suffer.
The increasing instances of mental health issues and mental illness are having a crippling effect on African American communities and families, and it actualizes itself in increased incidences of drug and alcohol abuse; physical and emotional abandonment of our dependents; a lack of motivation that leads to impoverished lifestyles, promiscuity and under-achievement.
It is time for action and education!
Peter speaks in Acts 10:34 “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality…” We are all subject to the possibility of mental health issues at any intersection of our lives, therefore we should be compelled to approach the issue with compassion and understanding.
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