Brief Notes on Black Mental Health
That's a fact. And a problem
by Chitown Kev
Last night, I was all set to do a column on a very different subject when an Al Jazeera story on the death of 17-year old Lennon Lacy in Bladenboro, North Carolina popped up on the Overnight News Digest that literally made me cringe.
When a black teenager was found hanging from a swing set by a belt that was not his own one morning late last summer, the first thought by his friends, family, and community was that it wasn’t a suicide. Lennon Lacy, they believe, was lynched.
Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a probe into the death, which the coroner in Bladen County, North Carolina, initially ruled a suicide based on evidence his family says is circumstantial: that he was distraught over the recent death of his uncle.
“It’s nonsense. Yes he was depressed, but he was grieving just like his other siblings,” said Rev. Gregory Taylor, a family friend who gave the uncle’s eulogy the day before Lacy’s body was discovered in his hometown of Bladenboro. “In the African-American community where we deal with grief openly and emotionally, doesn’t mean we are clinically depressed.”
As a Gen-X'er, I have to confess that it simply seems...surreal that stories of the possible lynchings of black folks are increasingly in the news in the 21-century and in age where a black man sits and
works behind the desk in the Oval Office. To be sure, spectacular lynchings are a part of black American history that I need to know but black American lynchings as current events? It's still hard to wrap my mind around that one.
But the possibility of 21-century black lynchings is only peripheral (though not unrelated) to the other cringe factor in this story.
(Let me emphasize and state here and now that I trust that with the Rev. William Barber and the North Carolina NAACP and now, the FBI, investigating the Lacy case, that there may be a ten-alarm fire behind the smoke outlined in the Al Jazeera article.)
Another statement by "family friend" Rev. Gregory Taylor also induced a cringe.
“In the African-American community where we deal with grief openly and emotionally, doesn’t mean we are clinically depressed.”
While Reverend Taylor may be correct about this specific case, his statement also contains an element of the stigmatizing of mental health issues among many black folks that sounds all too familiar to me.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has issued a number of fact sheets on suicide among varied racial and ethnic backgrounds in the United States including African Americans. Some of their findings include:
*Suicide was the 16th leading cause of death for Blacks of all ages and the 3rd leading cause of death for young Black males ages 15–24.
*Black rates can differ by ethnicity. One study found that among adult males, Caribbean Blacks had a higher rate of suicide attempts than African American Blacks.
On the other hand, another study found that among adolescent males, African American Blacks were approximately five times more likely than Caribbean
Blacks to attempt suicide.
*Orthodox religious beliefs and personal devotion have been identified as protective against suicide among Blacks.
*Increased acculturation into White society, which can include loss of family cohesion and support, leads to increased risk for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
Those are simply some of the highlights in the SPRC report that stuck out to me; the entire report is well worth the read. I did not like the fact that the SPRC report did not include any bullet points about LGBT status, although that information is readily available
In terms of overall mental health, this fact sheet from The National Alliance on Mental Illness contains additional data including:
*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 under
standing; only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African American.
*Across a recent 15-year span, suicide rates increased 233 percent among African Americans aged 10-14 compared to 120 percent among Caucasian Americans in the
same age group across the same span of time.
*Somatization—the manifestation of physical illnesses related to mental health—occurs at a rate of 15 percent among African Americans and only 9 percent among Caucasian Americans.
*Programs in African American communities sponsored by respected institutions, such as churches and local community groups can increase awareness of mental health issues and resources and decrease the related stigma.
Clearly, there are multiple factors to deal with here including access to affordable health care, racism and white privilege within the general society and
within the medical community, and the stigmatization of mental illness within black communities.
There are probably some here at Black Kos who are far more qualified to write about this issue than myself.
However, as a black gay agnostic who has contemplated (and, yes, attempted) suicide in the past and who has had issues with drug and alcohol addiction and as someone who has not and cannot (by and large) turn to the religious black community for help, this is an issue that is simply personal and one which I cannot write about in any objective way.
Frankly, one of the reasons that I applaud The Black Church is because of the essential role that the Church has played and continues to play in addressing the psychic needs of black people within this racist society.
The racist outpourings, racist police killings, and, yes, possible racist lynchings and many other things that have occurred since the election of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, affects so much more the black body; it also affects the black spirit, the black psyche, and the black soul.
Attacks on the spirit, psyche, and soul can, for long periods of time, remain hidden until it is too late.
Simply put, black folks need the churches in our communities more than ever. Our communities also need quality mental health facilities and practioners. And, most importantly, the churches and the mental health facilities/practioners need to be on the same page.