As an inner city police officer I get to see my share of “crazy” people. Although I am not a mental health professional, an important aspect of my job is dealing with those who suffer from mental illness. So much so that I knew it was best to become trained in Crisis Intervention and a member of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). I see it all and it’s important that I am equipped to deal with these encounters…the proper way. With that said, before I started this career I never could have imagined how prevalent mental illness is and how deeply it penetrates the African American Community.

What I witness on a daily basis is eye opening and disheartening, I never knew so many of our people were so depressed, paranoid, suicidal and suffering. See, growing up I thought mental illness was a “white people” problem, I was very ignorant to the reality that mental illness does not discriminate. I didn’t hear about depression, suicidal thoughts or hearing voices, even when I personally knew those who were affected. In the African American community we aren’t conditioned to talk about our problems, we are only conditioned to get through them. Which is likely the reason why according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.

Even with those staggering statistics we still choose to turn a blind eye to a growing epidemic that seems to be a taboo topic. As a people we take pride in being strong, yet we ignore the mental deterioration that comes with years of enduring hardships. Although we don’t have a universal upbringing or experience, we suffer a high rate of poverty, exposure to substance abuse, violence and sexual abuse. Those experiences can plant the seeds of emotional and mental instability that often goes unresolved. Yet when the words counseling or therapy are mention, they are met with swift defiance.

We don’t talk about our problems and you bet not mention you think someone needs help. We don’t trust doctors, we don’t want no medication and we surely don’t want a stranger all up in our business, especially when there is nothing wrong with us. However, most times we know something is not right with ourselves or someone else but once again we were only conditioned to endure. We are the descendant’s of slaves, born from a lineage of trauma. We don’t dig too deep because our family history is usually forgotten or shrouded in secrecy. If revealed many of us would discover that mental illness is a deep root in our family tree. You will learn that parent who drinks too much is depressed, that auntie/uncle who always cussing, fussing and carrying on is bi-polar, that sibling who always plays the victim suffers from borderline personality disorder, and that cousin you always catch talking to themselves is schizophrenic. This is generation after generation.

We are the descendant’s of slaves, born from a lineage of trauma. We don’t dig too deep because our family history is usually forgotten or shrouded in secrecy. If revealed many of us would discover that mental illness is a deep… Click To Tweet

We see it, we feel it but what are we doing about it? Mental illness does not only affect the individual, it affects everyone connected to them. It takes a toll on their families and friends. Leaving those affected to feel abandoned and alienated. How do we remove the stigma of mental illness in our community and remind our people that you can be strong but still need help?

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