Addressing Mental Health in the Black Community
With public school systems failing, lead in the water and a nation being further torn apart by politics, it’s no wonder why people are reaching out about their mental health. In the past, speaking about one’s mental state was seen as taboo, and a sign of craziness, and for some this remains true today.
According to UW-Milwaukee sociology graduate student Stephanie Baran, stressors effect our mental health, and people experience different stressors. “Stressors, no matter what they are, can really aggravate your mental health,” she says.
Losing your job or failing an exam can affect your mental health and this could cause things such as anxiety or depression. According to Baran, the issue isn’t the changes, but that we don’t discuss the changes. “Humans can have different emotions and feelings,” she adds. “We need to start talking about this, so I can feel comfortable saying things like ‘My dad was institutionalized.’”
Baran was told to keep that fact about her father “in the family,” but she believes if things are going to get better then we have to talk. Baran compares humans to Humpty Dumpty because we sometimes break and that’s OK. But, to put ourselves back together, we need to talk and receive help, and that help needs to be available.
The Crisis Assessment Response Team (CART) is one resource for helping better Milwaukee’s mental health treatment.
The goal of CART, a collaboration between the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (BHD) and the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD), is to send a crisis team clinician and a police officer to a scene when an individual might be dealing with a mental health issue. The partnership provides that individual with resources as needed and deescalates the situation before it ends in an arrest.
BHD Clinician Maya Robinson and MPD Lieut. Cassandra Libal are part of CART. Both agree that there is a need for their team in the city. “No one’s exempt from mental health,” says Robinson. “It’s something we can all relate to.”
CART is showing the community what receiving help can do. As a clinician on the scene, Robinson does a full crisis assessment by checking medical condition, mental history and more.
Through CART, Libal educates the community on mental health because “this is a social issue that needs to be dealt with.” She says individuals dealing with mental health issues shouldn’t be treated as a criminal. They’re just humans that need help. “We need to be more compassionate and stay away from the stigma,” says Libal. “We as a community need to pay focus to this.”
What about mental health in the black community, whose members don’t always have the access to resources or the opportunity to talk about what’s going on inside?
The Roots of Silence
Going back generations, black people have been dealing with trauma without ever getting to the root of the problem, so the trauma is then passed down to the next generation. Many teachers don’t know what their students deal with on a daily basis, which is why more therapists and counselors are needed in public schools. Children, especially low-income black children, don’t always have the option to share how their feelings at home.
“Kids always have an extra story for their behavior,” says licensed professional counselor Lakiesha Russell, and it’s our job to provide them the space to share that story.
Russell says black people’s resistance to speak out and receive help comes from a history of being ill-used in medical research. A well-known example of this is the Tuskegee experiment that infected over a hundred poor black men with syphilis. That’s why Russell believes it’s important to have representation in therapy. “We need to reintroduce therapy and what that looks like because therapy is dope and a dope therapist plus dope conversations equals elevation,” she says. “And with police brutality and racism that kind of stuff doesn’t make our mental health any better.”
Russell is referencing places like Milwaukee’s inner city where most black people reside and the threat of trauma exists every day. Milwaukee is one of the worst American cities for blacks, according to USA Today, which is yet another stressor the community must deal with. She says it’s time to break the stigma by talking about our stress and taking notes from other cities like Chicago. Back in November, Chicago held a black mental health wellness week and over 200 women registered. Russell said she tried to do the same thing here, but there’s not enough support in the city.
Even though she’s a therapist herself, she goes to see her own black therapist because sometimes other black people can better understand her struggle. “I still need a therapist,” Russell says. “My mental health matters.”
Blake Tucker is a prime example of what it’s like to be in the black community dealing with mental health issues. Tucker transitioned from being a black woman to a black male back in 2015, and that’s when he started experiencing anxiety. He comes from a close-knit family and when he decided to change, so did the way his family treated him. He’s been a part of the LGBT+ community since 16, but it wasn’t until he began making physical changes that his family backed away.
Although his story is different from others, it still has the same message that the black community has to become more open and discuss things, especially mental health. He says you have to be persistent. Although the conversation may be hard, it has to be done. It took time, but last year Tucker finally rebuilt his relationship with his mother. “We may not be at peace today, but if we continue to talk about it, it gets easier,” Tucker says. “It’s a different time and people are more open about mental health. We’re breaking so many societal norms.”
Tucker dealt with his anxiety by reaching out to people with a similar story to his. He sees a transgender male therapist, which allows him a space to express himself freely.
Radaya Ellis wasn’t given that same space, so she created her own through self-teaching and reaching out. She was never diagnosed, but Ellis dealt with depression because she never confronted the traumas of her past. Yet, her mother is diagnosed with depression, so she knew the signs to look out for, and when she saw them she began to talk about them. “I am an advocate for just talking about it,” she says. “Ask questions and talk to someone.”
Ellis believes there is such a stigma in the black community about mental health because of history and because of pride. Black people have overcome many barriers, so to say something in their head is affecting them is something many blacks refuse to accept, Ellis insists. “Mental health isn’t a disease it’s something you go through,” she continues. “Anything can affect your mental, but you can gain control over your mind.”
Along with knowing the signs, she says individuals have to realize it’s not always stressors that are the problem. Sometimes it’s the person herself. Ellis says it’s okay to admit “yes, I am f****** up because of this, but I don’t have to stay f***** up. If you can overcome a mental illness you become stronger,” said Ellis. “Now it’s a benefit and not a crutch.”
There is no age group or race that doesn’t have to deal with mental health, so why are we not talking about it? It’s 2018 and mental health isn’t a topic that should be put under the rug.
“Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and reach out,” Tucker concludes.
Black Therapists Practicing in Milwaukee
Michael Dale, LPC
6815 W. Capitol Drive, Suite 208
Pamela Hansen, MSW
6815 W. Capitol Drive, Suite 304
Cedric Dale Hoard, LPC-IT
Christian Life Counseling
12630 W. North Ave.
(262) 785- 1008
Kia Holloway, LPC
Imani Counseling Services
8018 W. Capitol Drive
Lakeia Jones, LPC, SAC
4001 W. Capitol Drive
Dr. Starlette Patterson- Biddle
Mindstar Counseling, LLC
7900 W. Burleigh Street
Lakiesha Russell, LPC
The Evolving Chair Counseling & Consulting Agency
3100 N. 78th St.
Dr. Ramel Smith
BLAQUESMITH Psychological Consultative Services
Patricia Taylor, LPC
P Taylor Consulting
Tracy Treacy, LPC
D &S Healing Center
4650 N. Port Washington Road
Donetta Walker, LPC
Divine Wellness & Counseling
5225 N. Ironwood Road, Glendale
Alfonzo Watkins, LPC
The Wake Up Program
Milwaukee, WI 53212
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED WITH THE SHEPHERD EXPRESS ON 05/02/18