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I have a secret. It is a secret that I was ashamed of. I have a family member with a mental illness. Like most folks we didn’t talk about it. Everyone, and I mean everyone knew. Others ignored it. Some pretended like it did not happen or even worse I as a child was told to get over it. Some relatives, family and friends suggested prayer or seeing a minister because the illness was a sign of weakness/the devil. At least they tried. I couldn’t escape it. I didn’t have the luxury of ignoring it this because that person was my mother.

In her thirties my mother went from being a beautiful vibrant woman who was a professional dancer, an active member of her church and an ambitious municipal employee to someone I did not know. Heck, there were times when she didn’t know who I was even though I was her child. As a kid I always thought if only I had done this or if only had I did that she would not have gotten sick. There were so many “if onlys” but honestly there was nothing I could really do. I was a child trapped in a circumstance that  I could not change. I blamed God, myself and everyone else for it. I tried to rationalize the irrational. One day I, like many others who are going through this circumstance realize it is not anyone else’s fault. It just is.

How did we deal with the situation?  For over twenty years my family has just dealt. There was plenty of hurt, tears, resentment, counseling, medication, hospitalizations and forgiveness but deep down even on my darkest days I always knew things would get better. And thankfully it has. I was blessed to have very supportive brothers and sisters and I have my mom back. If I could would I change a thing? No, because life has been my teacher. My hurt has taught me compassion. My anger has taught me patience. My failures have taught me never to quit and my losses have taught me to love. I feel like these moments guided me towards my purpose which is making sure you live the best life possible.

Folks there is no shame in mental illness. The shame is not doing anything about it. If you suspect you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness seek help. Some great places to start are the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America. If you need someone to talk please call 1-800-273- TALK (8255). For a list of Mental Health hotline numbers and referral services please click here.  Please go seek professional help. If I can get through it you can too.

Statistics on African American mental health:

  • “Social circumstances often serve as an indicator for the likelihood of developing a mental illness. African Americans are disproportionately more likely to experience social circumstances that increase their chances of developing a mental illness.” – National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • “African Americans in the United States are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses than their Caucasian counterparts. Schizophrenia, for instance has been shown to be over diagnosed in the African American population” – National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites. – The Office of Minority Health
  • Even though suicide rates among African Americans is lower than the general population African American men was almost four times more likely to commit suicide than African American women. – The Office of Minority Health
  • “Exposure to violence increases the risk of developing a mental illness; over 25 percent of African American children exposed to violence meet criteria for post traumatic stress disorder.” – National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • From 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233%, as compared to 120% of Non-Hispanic Whites. – The Office of Minority Health

African American Mental Health voices from NAMI (video)

Remember a revolution always starts between two ears. Start yours today.