An ongoing challenge health care professionals face is how to end the stigma of mental health in communities of color.
Each year millions of people in the U.S. are affected by mental illness. Mental disorders or mental illnesses are conditions that affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. They can be occasional or chronic. There are many types of mental disorders. Some include, Anxiety disorders (including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias), Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia. According to The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year. Mental illness does not discriminate. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Black youth who are exposed to violence are at a greater risk for PTSD by over 25%. Black Americans are also more likely to be exposed to factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as homelessness, racism and violence.
To address the widespread mental health concerns locally, NAMI Richland County has teamed up with the local community organization Restored Visions, founded by Melodye James, to bring the NAMI Family- to-Family program to Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, 506 Daisy St. Mansfield. NAMI Family-to-Family is a free, multiple-session education program for family, friends, and significant others of adults with mental health conditions. NAMI Family-to-Family provides information about anxiety, depressive disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions. Other topics covered include communication, problem solving, treatment and recovery.
The course is designed to increase understanding and advocacy skills while helping participants maintain their own well-being. The program is taught by trained family members who have a loved one with a mental health condition. NAMI Family-to-Family is an evidence-based program (EB).
The free classes are held every Saturday for 5 weeks beginning April 24 - May 22, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Faith Temple. The facilitators of the program are Nnena McCruter – Jordan and Carla James, Executive Director of Restored Visions.
“NAMI Richland County is grateful and excited to be sponsoring a NAMI Family-to-Family Class at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ this Spring, “said Mary Kay Pierce, Executive Director of NAMI Richland County. “The course covers topics such as mental health conditions, treatment options, communication skills, preparing for a crisis, empathy, and recovery. Carla James and Nnena McCruter-Jordan completed the class in 2019 and went on to be trained through NAMI Ohio to be instructors for the course. The hope is to bring education and resources to minority families throughout the county. Faith Temple Pastor William and First Lady Sheila Jordan have also trained as instructors and are helping with the class. “Mary Kay has been a long-time family friend and when we started looking at the issues of stigma, denial and treatment gaps in the minority community NAMI was immediately thought of,“ said Carla James. ”When I reached out to Mary Kay with our idea, she was very helpful and supportive. She helped us to host our first
meeting at the mental health board and has been a constant supporter ever since. “Over the many years that NAMI has taught the class, very few minorities have reached out and taken the
class,” said Pierce. “We want to change that and make it more accessible to all our county. Mental health concerns touch all our families, and we continue to strive to deliver help and hope to all who need it. We are grateful for the dedication and help of all the individuals who are making this class possible!”
Despite the resources made available to the community, some African Americans will not seek mental healthcare because of stigma and shame. “Because we are such proud hard-working people, we tend to associate any problems or conditions with an inherent character flaw, laziness or sometimes even lack of spirituality,” said James. “Since these things are negatives, we tend to overlook, minimize, normalize or just totally ignore mental health conditions. It can be a coping mechanism.”
“When I first faced the fact that I dealt with ADHD and anxiety it was life altering because I was then able to let go of some of the negative thoughts, I had internalized about myself,” said James. I wasn’t lazy, I had a brain condition that needed to be addressed. No different from someone who has diabetes and needs to take insulin. However, in our community mental health conditions are looked at so negatively that it is more comfortable to behave like they are not there. This is so detrimental to our community particularly because untreated mental
health conditions can lead to negative encounters with law enforcement which often has tragic outcomes. It’s also very dangerous in today’s climate because the narrative is developing to not reach out to law enforcement in a crisis and this can also be very dangerous.”
Pierce and James believe that in order to end the stigma the community must come together to change attitudes about mental health in order to improve mental health for everyone.
“It’s essential that we as a community start to take a look at ourselves and others who have conditions with love non-judgment and compassion and then work to seek treatment and other sources of support,” said James. NAMI Richland County and Restored Visions have developed tool kits that help families cope with mental illness or help family members battling mental illness. The information is available here: nami.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information and how to register for the free NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program at Faith Temple contact Carla James at 419-573-9895 or email email@example.com
About Restored Visions
Restored Visions is a community organization that was founded by my mother Melodye James. Restored Visions seeks to educate, empower, and uplift the community particularly underserved and minority groups. Restored Visions does this through our prayer ministry for grandparents, educational advocacy and training for parents of students impacted by the intersection of school struggles and mental health and the Minority Mental Health Initiative which is the committee which is responsible for the collaboration with NAMI Richland County.
About NAMI Richland County
NAMI Richland County evolved from the former "Families in Touch" support group which was meeting at the Center (now Catalyst Life Services) in the late 1990's. Parents, siblings, spouses, and children of mentally ill individuals were meeting monthly for support and to learn how to advocate for their loved ones. Mary Kay Pierce and Darlene Reed started attending this group in the spring of 1998. They soon found out there was a growing need for families and the community to be educated on mental illness. Together they started the Family-to-Family classes in the fall of 1999 to help support and educate the families living with mental illness. When the need for help and more education continued to grow within the community, they asked the Richland County Mental Health Board (RCMHB) to consider helping start a NAMI local affiliate. On July 16, 2001, with the help of the RCMHB, NAMI Richland County became a 501(C)3 organization and established its own office in Mansfield. Mary Kay Pierce and Darlene Reed are the cofounders of the NAMI local affiliate. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.