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It’s Time to Fight!

July 11, 2012

JET magazine is reporting (via the Associated Press) that Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. is being treated for a mood disorder that is causing him to miss work in the House of Representatives. Initial reports stated that the congressman was being treated for exhaustion, but subsequent reports revealed a more serious situation.

I pray that Congressman Jackson is okay and that he makes a full recovery. I say that with all sincerity because I’ve been treated for major depression. I don’t know the specific diagnosis for Congressman Jackson, but I do know that mental health is a taboo subject in the black community that needs to be addressed. The conventional wisdom in our community is that we don’t get depressed. After coming through slavery, Jim Crow, and every other injustice past and present, many black people feel that we as a community should be able to handle anything without mental health complications. Depression and other mental health issues are commonly viewed something that happens to white people, not blacks. Even when there may be clear case of a mental health need, getting treatment is often viewed as a sign of weakness. If the ancestors could endure whips and chains, you should be able to handle whatever problems you have is the common belief.

The fact is that mental health impacts all communities, just like physical health. According to the Center for Disease Control, blacks are “more likely than whites to experience a mental disorder” but are “less likely to seek treatment.” During an episode of  the television show Girlfriends, Golden Brooks’ character Maya says to Joan “black people don’t go to therapy they go to church.” I remember that line clearly, because I was in therapy at the time. Having a mood disorder like depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety is no more a sign of weakness than having high blood pressure or sickle-cell. Both can have deleterious effects without treatment and monitoring, but with proper care both can be manageable. The same is true of mental health issues. Treatment, monitoring, and lifestyle adjustments can make an enormous difference.

One reason I’m on the fitness path is because I know that exercise and healthy living is a natural treatment for depression (as well as for high blood pressure). Medication can be helpful in some instances but there’s nothing like the body’s natural endorphin.

I applaud Congressman Jackson for getting treatment. It takes real strength to recognize that there is an issue and then do do something about it. Apparently he is facing some pressure to be more forthcoming about his specific condition, but fighting the undue stigma against mental illness can be a daunting challenge for a private citizen, and is probably so much more so for a public figure.

It is past time to lift the stigma against mental health and mental illness. If you think you or someone you know may be impacted by mental illness, don’t stay silent. Get help. Take action. A great resource is the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). This past May I participated in the NAMI Walk 2012, an annual walk to raise awareness and funding for mental health issues. Honestly I was moved by seeing so many people engaged and addressing this issue. It’s so easy to feel alone, even if you have family and friends around you who care.

I plan to walk again next year, and I invite you to join my team, or start your own.

It’s time to tear down the curtain of shame and isolation that too often accompanies mental health issues. It’s time to build each other up as we all go through various struggles in life. It’s time to show our strength and fight the stigma against mental illness.

NAMI Walk 2012

From → Commentary, Wellness

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