Following the release of a video featuring actress Maia Campbell (best known from In the House with LL Cool J and Debbie Allen) shouting obscenities in an incoherent state, the internet began buzzing.
However, much of what was reported was that she was a prostitute with a drug problem, failing to mention her mental state…like many in the black community who suffer in silence when it comes to mental illness.
Maia has a co-occurring disorder after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder/manic depression and a substance abuse problem, which has symptoms similar to schizophrenia. According to a recent statement issued by her stepfather and grandmother, Maia “is in treatment and in a facility” getting the help she needs.
But there are so many in our communities who fail to do so.
We tend to rely on family, religious or social communities for emotional support, rather than turning to health care professionals. Because of this, mental health issues may be perceived as a failure of our faith. But there is no reason we can’t utilize all of our connections to deal with such things.
There’s also the general suspicion many of us have for the medical field and psychiatry in particular. It’s not easy to forget a time when blacks were unwitting and unwilling subjects of medical experiments such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.
The disconnect between psychiatric treatment and training and the black community and culture poses yet another issue. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers are black. On top of that, nearly one in four blacks is uninsured making sound mental health less of a priority for those who can’t afford it.
The rise in suicide among young, black males is linked to both the rise of violence in our culture and a lack of awareness about the nature of depression and the absence of counselors who are culturally sensitive enough to recognize depression in black youth.
Churches and community groups are the key to increasing awareness about mental health issues and the stigma associated with them. By encouraging community members to join the mental health profession and to seek mental health medical attention when needed, we will improve mental health awareness in our communities. Whether we want to admit it or not, it’s something that needs to be done.