*In any given year 26 percent of American adults suffer from mental disorders.

Think about it, when you walk down the street, at least one out of every four or five people you pass is suffering form some form of mental illness.

As Congresswoman Giffords continues to make a most surprising recovery, in a jail cell somewhere in arizona awaiting what seems to be an almost certain fate, is a 22-year old young man, after shooting a total of 17 people nd killing 6 of them..

Several of Jared Loughner’s classmates and instructors at Pima Community College noticed his erratic behavior, had him removed from school, and notified his parents. Why was no one able to get him into treatment? A leading psychologist says our fear and misunderstanding of mental illness prevents us from stepping in before tragedies occur.

I believe that it is way past time for us to look at the state of mental health care in this country. Especially regarding emotional and mental illness, there are so many people who are unable to seek treatment because they may be unable to navigate the system in order to receive social services or they just don’t have enough money to pay for treatment if they fall into middle class incomes because insurance rarely covers mental issues effectively.    It must be remembered also that in the 1970’s the doors to the mental hospitals were closed to the indigent and those people flooded the streets with nowhere to live, and no place to recive help. Not to mention that we, as a society turn a blind eye.

One of the greatest, and most undertreated, threats affecting Americans today is Mental Illness. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are affected by mental, neurological or behavioral problems at any time.

In keeping with the prevalence of health disparities and inequities in practically every other area of health, the African American community suffers disproportionately from both mental health and mental health treatment.

One in four patients visiting a health service has at least one mental, neurological or behavioral disorder, but most of these disorders are neither diagnosed nor treated.

African Americans account for only 2% of psychiatrists, 2% of psychologists, and 4% of social workers in the United States.

Mental illnesses affect, and are affected by, chronic conditions such as cancer, heart and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and HIV/AIDS. Untreated, they bring about unhealthy behavior, non-compliance with prescribed medical regimens, diminished immune functioning, and poor prognosis.

Compounding this disparity in mental health is the existence of a pervasive stigma that is held widely in the African American community: “they might think I’m crazy”!

The stigma that engulfs African Americans on the issue of mental illness has its’ origins deep in the annals of slave history in America.

One scientific report went so far as to deliberately falsify the black insanity rates from the 1840 U.S. census to show that the further North blacks lived, the higher their rates of lunacy strong evidence, of course, that freedom drove blacks crazy!

Over 150 years after the 1840 census, there are still important gaps and paradoxes in our knowledge of the mental health status of the African American population.

African Americans are disproportionately exposed to social conditions considered to be important risk factors for physical and mental illness.

African Americans frequently lack a usual source of health care as a focal point for treatment. For many African Americans, the emergency room is generally the source of primary care treatment. As a result, mental health care occurs frequently in emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals. These settings and limited treatment available there, undermine the delivery of high-quality mental health care. I was just at one last week with a friend and his wife in support of their daughter.

Adaptive traditions have sustained African Americans through long periods of hardship imposed by the larger society. There is a historical tendency to “cope” and “adapt’ through a myriad of mechanisms. Among them are food, smoking; illicit drugs; violence; and sex, just to name a few. For some, it is a total withdrawal from social interactions.

I always remember a childhood friend, who had an “Uncle John”, who sat in the same chair, by the window, day in, day out, for as long as I can remember. I can still hear my friend’s mother telling visitors to the house, “Oh, don’t mind him, that’s just Uncle John. He won’t bother you, he harmless”.

Less than half of African American adults with mental illness seek treatment for mental health problems, and less than one third of their children receive treatment.

The lack in receiving treatment is due in part to the stigma that surrounds mental disorders in the African American community.

African American communities across the United States are more culturally diverse now that any other time in history with increasing numbers of immigrants from African nations, the Caribbean, Central America and other countries. To ensure African American communities have access to adequate and affordable care, a better understanding of the complex role that cultural backgrounds and diverse experiences play in mental disorders in these communities is vital.

Because African Americans often turn to community – family, friends, neighbors, community groups and religious leaders – for help, the opportunity exists for community health services to collaborate with local churches and community groups to provide mental health care and education to families and individuals.

 

I think it is only fair and appropriate to recognize the efforts of Dr. Arthur Evans at the Philadelphia Department of Bejhavioral Health, who understands this, and is making tremendous strides in leading the nation in transforming how mental and behavioral health is delivered.

On the surface, the deep threat this issue poses to African American health may not be apparent. However, mental illnesses affect, and are affected by, chronic conditions such as cancer, heart and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and HIV/AIDS. Untreated, they bring about unhealthy behavior, non-compliance with prescribed medical regimens, diminished immune functioning, and poor prognosis.

If this major public health issue is to be addressed effectively in the African American community, several things have to take place:

*      More aggressive efforts in addressing Health Disparities and Inequities as a community

*      Educate and involve Religious leaders in directing seekers of prayer to Mental Health Services

*      Make mental health a part of dialogue in primary care settings

*     Increase the availability of African American Mental Heath Providers

*     Encourage compliance and continuation of treatment by family and friends

*     Let elected official and policy makers know that we expect much more from them

 

Remember, I’m not a doctor, I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

Glenn Ellis, author of Which Doctor?, is a syndicated health columnist and radio commentator who lectures around the world on health issues of particular interest to the African-American community.

E-mail me at glenn@glennellis.com

For good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com