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Yes, mental illness affects ‘us’

George Curry | 10/14/2013, 11:04 a.m.
On Sept. 16, the news was shocking: A contract employee who worked at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., later ...
George Curry

And when Blacks do seek help to get over those emotional hurdles, they tend to do so later, when treatment might not be as effective as it may have been if they had sought help earlier.

In addition to our antiquated attitude toward mental health, medical professionals also share part of the blame.

A fact sheet by the National Alliance on Mental Health notes:

• 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.

• Culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural understanding; only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African American.

• Overall sensitivity to African American cultural differences, such as differences in medication metabolization rates, unique views of mental illness and propensity towards experiencing certain mental illnesses, can improve African Americans’ treatment experiences and increase utilization of mental health care services.

Dr. Sarah Vinson, who created http://www.blackmentalhealthnet.com, said mental illness takes a high toll on African Americans.

In an Emory University posting, she said: “Untreated, mental illness can cause strained relationships, social dysfunction and numerous other problems that can end up in divorce, unemployment and suicide.”

(In addition to Dr. Vinson’s website, further information on mental illness can be obtained from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.)

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through http://www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.