Kanye, mental illness and us

GLENN ELLIS | 12/12/2016, 6:46 a.m.
Kanye West is at it again.
Kanye West File photo

Strategies for Well-Being

Kanye West is at it again.

The erratic and confusing – although sometimes amusing – antics of West continue to dominate the entertainment industry. However, recent developments have started to cast a cloud over how amused or concerned people are about West and his mental health. Truth be told, people have been speculating about his mental and emotional wellbeing for some time.

Let me be clear, we do not know any of the specifics of West’s medical information. However, his recent, well-publicized activities should cause us all to pause and look at mental illness in our society and particularly in the African American community.

African Americans are no different when it comes to prevalence of mental health conditions when compared to the rest of the population. However, your concerns or experiences and how you understand and cope with these conditions may be different.

With African Americans leading the country with troubling statistics in areas like unemployment, child abuse and neglect, and domestic violence, all of which can exacerbate stress, it is perhaps not surprising that the community leads the country in mental health struggles.

There’s no getting around it, institutional racism is a leading cause of mental illness in African Americans.

Racism can psychologically affect Blacks by allowing society to deny their value as individuals and by compelling them to internalize the racist conceptions of them held by their oppressors. Racist stressors may also lead to increased physiological reactivity that, when sustained for a period of time, can lead to cardiovascular disorders and diseases.

For African American adults, perceived racism may cause mental health symptoms similar to trauma and could lead to some physical health disparities between Blacks and other populations in the United States, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

Most Americans, particularly African Americans, underestimate the impact of mental disorders. Many believe symptoms of mental illnesses, such as depression, are “just the blues.”

Often, African Americans turn to family, church and community to cope. Forgiveness and grace are indeed hallmarks of the Black church. The level of religious commitment among African Americans is high. In one study, approximately 85 percent of African Americans respondents described themselves as “fairly religious” or “religious,” and prayer was among the most common way of coping with stress.

But the real statistics are loud and clear. African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic Whites, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Services. Yet, young adult African Americans, especially those with higher levels of education, are less likely to seek mental health services than their White counterparts.

Can racism cause post-traumatic stress? That’s one big question psychologists are trying to answer, particularly in the aftermath of the plethora of police shootings of unarmed Black men in which race was a factor.

The relationship between perceived racism and self-reported depression and anxiety is quite clear, providing a reminder that experiences of racism may play an important role in the health disparities phenomenon. For example, African Americans have higher rates of hypertension, a serious condition that has been associated with stress and depression.