I am not sure if you are aware but May is mental health awareness month so I have not been doing any new blogs this month because I really waned to focus on what I would write regarding mental illness because the topic hits very close to home.

Many of you may not know but I work in an alternative school and I am dealing with youth and mental illness all day, many of the children are suffering from traumatic events that have or are still going on in their lives and the only way they know how to express the fear, pain and anger is to act out. Working within an alternative school has taught me so much about the parents of the students, one of the most important lessons I have learned is that many of the parents just do not care enough to get their children any help. I am working in a demographic which consist of mostly (98%) people of color and we have some deep seeded issues when it comes to seeking help for mental illness. There is a stigma behind reaching out for help, somehow parents feel as if they will be judged for not being able to take care of their children when in reality it’s the complete opposite, we are judging you FOR NOT getting the help that your son/daughter needs.

As a parent why would you allow your child to suffer? Why is it a second thought to get them the help they need to be a successful, productive member of society? Mental illness is ignored because it’s not something that can be seen with the naked eye. You can’t see the interrupted brain waves, you can’t see that the brains of people with ADHD spend more time in the theta state(look it up) than a normal brain, this is why we treat mental illness as an afterthought. I’ve seen and heard parents actual threaten the school saying things like “I’m going to take them off their medication and really unleash him on you.” THE FUCK, what loving, sensible parent says or even thinks to do some shit like that? I don’t even think they realize they are hurting their own child, not the school.

Ok, so I know I went left because I work directly with youth so I tend to slide that way, but i’m back on track now. One of the biggest reasons why people of color do not get help for mental illness is because of church, yes I said church, religion, if you grow up being told “Anything can be fixed by going to church”, then that is where you will go. Church is where people of color go, let me be clear when I say people of color I am speaking of black and brown people, those who are Christian, Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Methodist, whatever your flavor you will go where you have been told to go for hundreds of years. If the church can fix anything, why are so many people still attending? Why are there still millions upon millions of people who are suffering from mental illness? Why are so many people struggling in their lives, but find money to tithe on Sunday?(The last one has nothing to do with the topic, but I had to throw that one in.) The answer is BECAUSE THE CHURCH CANNOT FIX EVERYTHING! If you are suffering from a mental health issue, you may be able to go to your pastor or whomever and share with them how you are feeling, but thy cannot diagnose you, their only response should be “I think it is time to seek some help,” but the majority of the time those words are not being said, instead they are telling you to “Pray it away” or “Give it to god.” How is that helping someone who’s been hearing voices, suffering from depression, bi-polar disorder or schizoaffective disorder? The answer, IT DOESN’T, not one fucking bit and it pisses me off because for many generations we have been damaging our own communities by ignoring mental illness.

I am sure that we have all had that crazy uncle, cousin or even brother in our family, if you didn’t have one then you knew someone who did. Do you remember how we were never told exactly what was wrong with him, yet when you visited the house he lived in the basement and not upstairs with the rest of the family? That exact situation happened to me and I will never forget it. I was in my early twenties hanging out in Brooklyn with my cousin, there was a card game going on at another house so we decided to go over there to chill out with some more family. When we arrived at the house we saw the elders playing cards, one of them told us that everyone else was down in the basement so that was where we went. Once we were in the basement I noticed a man who was like 15 years older than us, he had on house clothes and was just sitting there watching television on what looked like his bed while the rest of us got our chill on. As we talked and drank the only thing I could think of was “Why is this grown, well bodied looking man living in his mothers basement?” I wanted to know why he seemed so out of it while the rest of us was having a good time, so I asked. I went upstairs to use the restroom and I asked his mother if he was OK, her response was ” Yea mon, him fine, is just that him head no good again.” For my Caribbean people we know that means “He’s Crazy” which equates to him being mentally ill. I continued to inquire until she told me that he was taking medication and needed to live in the basement by himself.  I thought that was a bit harsh because the basement was not big at all, it was small, dark, secluded and lonely, which made me question, How can someone heal in isolation? Unfortunately his mother did not care that he was isolated or how he was going to heal, she was receiving that check every month to take care of him and that’s all that mattered.

As a people we need to STOP! STOP SHAMING, STOP HIDING, STOP LYING, STOP IGNORING and STOP ALLOWING our young men and women to suffer alone. There are so many people of color who are incarcerated due to mental illness, yes they did commit a crime, but why? Were they manic at the time and did not know what they were doing? Have they been living on the streets because family members refuse to house them anymore due to fear? So many people need help, genuine help, even if it’s someone to talk to. There are millions of black men out here who are bipolar, depressed and suicidal, we see them walking the streets everyday talking to themselves but choose to ignore it. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have seen young black men walking the streets in a manic state trying to figure out what exactly is going on in their head, many of them self medicate because it’s the only way to silence the noise.

If you own a church and you want to help your people I implore you to open up a center for people with mental illness so they can receive services.

NO the pastors should not be the counselors because you are the pastor, your calling is to be a story teller, your only job is to recite some stories from the bible to people who for some reason cannot read it by themselves at home, not to diagnose and treat someone with mental illness. The center should include, counselors, therapist, psychologist, nurses and psychiatrist so that the people in the communities in which you serve are able to receive complete care if they or a family member is suffering from mental illness.

NO you are not able to use anyone’s information in one of your sermons (I mention this only because it actually happened the other morning while I was getting dressed for work and some church was on my television, no I wasn’t watching. The pastor called someone in his congregation out by telling his business and then calling him up to the pulpit, when he walked up there he said “Wow, I didn’t think you would call me out like that pastor.”) so no you are not allowed to do that.

NO you are not allowed to charge for these services, you make LOTS of money every week, invest that back into your congregation, provide your community the help it so desperately needs, unless of course your objective is not to see the people in your community get better.

I will end with this, MY people there is NOTHING wrong with someone being mentally ill and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG with seeking help. Make the choice for yourself, your child, your spouse, your friends and family to seek out help if and when needed. WE NEED YOU to be healthy, if that means stepping out of what you have been taught, then so be it.

I want to share this link http://overcomingschizophrenia.blogspot.com/ for any of my sisters and brothers who are feeling ashamed or in denial about getting help, please check out Ashley’s blog. A sister who is living with mental illness and learned how to manage it. I had my students watch her videos on youtube, I wanted them to see a familiar face, someone who resembles them so they can understand that you CAN LIVE with mental illness, it does not have to ruin your life.

-Ereena