Op-Ed by Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery County)
Depression. Anxiety. Mood disorders. Dementia.
We hear about these and other mental health afflictions in our regular conversations, on television shows and even in our music, but it remains a consistent public health crisis in the black community because of the stigma surrounding topic.
Phrases like ‘You know how she gets sometimes,’ or ‘he’s always been a little crazy’ belie the awareness that something isn’t quite right with the members of our community, as well as our unwillingness to truly address the root causes that plague people’s dispositions.
Don’t believe me, just look at the numbers: Of the 45.7 million people who self-identify as black or African American, 16 percent had a diagnosable mental illness in the past year. That’s nearly double the percentage of Americans with an opioid use disorder, a cause the whole nation is rightfully fighting to end.
Want that in raw numbers? Nearly 7 million black or African Americans suffered, mostly in silence. That number is more than the populations of Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia combined experiencing a diagnosable mental illness, according to Mental Health America.I want to do something about it.
Alongside my wife, Sheryl Lee Ralph-Hughes, I’m hosting an event to address the stigma around mental health in the black community: Breaking the Silence: Focus on You/Focus on Family. The event is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15.
We will address topics including blended families, loss, racism in the workplace, life transitioning and more. So many of the topics surrounding mental health are taboo or get glossed over in the black community and we want to change that with this event. We know that you can’t heal your family if you don’t heal yourself, so the intent is to help attendees understand what steps are necessary. From there we want to get people the resources to make the steps necessary to change their lives for the better, without feeling bad for dealing with mental health concerns.
Let me be clear, this an American problem that spans all communities. More than 47,000 people took their own lives in 2017, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Suicides and suicide attempts cost $93.5 billion a year, according to a USA Today report. The measurable part of the cost is lost productivity. The immeasurable is the lives lost and suffering of those left behind. Many of those souls could have been saved if more effort was dedicated to mental health awareness, resources and suicide prevention.
If you can’t make it next Saturday, know there are numerous resources available to aid those embarking on the journey to mental health wellness. There are free opportunities to join in mental health conversations on Instagram, free or low-cost apps for smartphones, and local organizations such as Health Minds Philly that are constantly working to make mental health resources more accessible.
Help is out there. Don’t let stigma stop you from having a healthy mind.