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Mental illness, stigma and African Americans

GLENN ELLIS | 4/29/2018, 11:33 p.m.
Since 1949, May has been recognized as Mental Health Month.
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Mental illness takes many forms; therefore, the issues those battling mental health face often go unseen. For some Black celebrities with mental health issues, life is often filled with tragedy and triumphs while engaging in a private and public battle. We go to their concerts and appearances; buy their music; stay glued to the television for the season’s hottest series. We watch African American celebrities and public figures on the world stages entertain and inspire us every day, yet we pay no attention to the signs and symptoms that they are suffering in silence. Only once they spiral out of control, often into total self-destruction, do we began to wonder “if something is wrong.”

Like many things that influence us, hearing about the challenges with mental illness by celebrities and public figures in our community has been helpful in “breaking the silence.” Serena Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Former U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. suffered from depression; Michael Jackson was said to have a condition which caused a negative pre-occupation with body image; Nina Simone suffered from bipolar disorder, as do Chris Brown, DMX, and Mike Tyson; Don Cornelius committed suicide; even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. suffered from depression and was suicidal.

Kanye West wisely sought and received mental health treatment. Is he really that different from the rest of us? Probably not as much as we’d like to think.

A cultural shift is needed to foster a climate in which friends and loved ones can seek non-judgmental support for a mental health condition. Education about mental disorders and the treatment process is a critical to reducing barriers to treatment among the African American community. Suggestions for overcoming this barrier include public education campaigns, educational presentations at community venues, and open information sessions at local mental health clinics.

This could make the difference in helping others feel empowered to get the help they may need.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

This column is for informational purposes only. If you have a medical condition or concern, please seek professional care from your doctor or other health professional. Glenn Ellis is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist and is available through http://www.glennellis.com.