African Americans are strong people. We have survived centuries of abuse — from capture, the Middle Passage, enslaved under inhuman conditions, Jim Crow, the Great Migration followed by segregation. The slaves who survived the Middle Passage had to be strong both physically and mentally —snatched from their homeland and sold in the Americas and Caribbean Islands — to do back-breaking work whites couldn’t handle in the cotton, tobacco, sugar and rice fields. In the words of Maya Angelou:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
Through all of that, many modern-day African Americans have ignored, or suppressed, their needs for spiritual and emotional well-being. Why? Are we really, “Too blessed to be stressed”? The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) had this to say: “Part of this shared cultural experience —family connections, values, expression through spirituality or music, reliance on community and religious networks — are enriching and can be great sources of strength and support.
“However, another part of this shared experience is facing racism, discrimination and inequity that can significantly affect a person’s mental health. Being treated or perceived as ‘less than’ because of the color of your skin can be stressful and even traumatizing. Additionally, members of the Black community face structural challenges accessing the care and treatment they need.
“According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness, hopelessness and feeling like everything is an effort.”
And it’s not just those African Americans living below or at the poverty line who are stressed. According to Pew Research, “blacks with a family income of $50,000 a year or more are about equally likely to say they are very happy (28 percent) than are blacks with a family income of less than$50,000 (27 percent).” The key statistic here is that 72 percent of blacks making $50,000 or below annually are self-reporting that they are not very happy.
According to a study titled, “African American Men and Women’s Attitude Toward Mental Illness, Perceptions of Stigma, and Preferred Coping Behaviors”Depression has been identified as one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting more than 12 million women (12 percent) and more than 6 million men (7 percent) in the U.S. within any 1-year period (National Institute of Mental Health, 2011). In a recent large-scale national survey, a lifetime prevalence rate of 10.4 percent was reported for African Americans (Williams et al., 2007), thus indicating that this group is affected by depression at high rates. Results also showed African American women (13.1 percent) had a higher prevalence of depression compared to African American men (7.0 percent), which is consistent with literature indicating women have higher prevalence of depression compared to men (National Institute of Mental Health).
Of course, there are good reasons for being stressed and worried about our physical and mental we’ll-being, particularly in the age of COVID-19. Couple that with the political upheaval of the last administration, George Floyd protests during the summer of 2020 and the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol, and the saying, “I might be paranoid, but I have good reason to be paranoid,” is appropriate.
Isolation over the last 18-months have allowed for the resurrection of our buried demons. Many people loss jobs or were laid off, and even expanded government benefits did little to allay fears for the future or the societal stress of those who went from being considered a hard-working contributor to society to a deadbeat. And there are other stressors. Even if you could work from home, the kids were home, too. Dividing one’s time between work and homeschooling is tough. Parents had to be on 24/7. Many gained a new appreciation for teachers. And there was stress for children as well. Many missed special milestones, athletics, proms, graduations or just being able to see their friends. And there have been events that have been particularly traumatizing. We have all lost loved ones, and not being able to visit or say goodbye can send you into depression. Others had loved ones in senior care facilities where visitation was impossible. The question is: What do you do when the four walls come crashing down? Seeking help is no personality flaw, rather, it’s a realization of the forces attacking you.
The road to seeking help is no further away than your computer keyboard. There are several trusted sites where you can find out if you fit the profile of needing professional mental help. (https://tinyurl.com/47tsjmzr). If online isn’t your thing, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or pastor. Atrium Health Navicent has a number of resources for a variety of issues, and can be found at (https://www.navicenthealth.org/service-center/family-health-center/resources).
God put these resources in place for a reason. Know your issues and don’t let those issues control you. Remember the 4 A’s of mental health: awareness, anticipation, alternatives and access.
Written by Charles Richardson