Mental health issues in our communities
As recently as Jan. 14, 2015, an African American man killed his ex-girlfriend, her current boyfriend and himself, in the parking lot of a restaurant in Palatka. Was that normal rage or jealously that prompted his homicidal and suicidal behavior? A couple of weeks ago a European descent man in Tampa threw his little daughter off a bridge. Everyone appears certain that he was mentally ill. In fact, several individuals had attempted to seek intervention to get him help be-fore his act of murder. What happens that prevents us from preventing and/or intervening to protect the mentally ill in the community and those who are potential victims of their behavior?
In October 2014 the Jacksonville Community Council, Inc. (JCCI) released a comprehensive report entitled “Unlocking the Pieces: Community Mental Health in Northeast Florida”. This was the most recent in a series of “inquiries” regarding quality of life issues in our community. The 64-page report identifies the following as the major problems related to treatment of the mentally ill in our community:
l There is a shortage of mental health professionals.
l The system of care is fragmented
l The public sector is underfunded
The report addresses the special populations of senior citizens, veterans and the homeless. I could not find any mention of persons of color, however, issues of access to care are definitely increased for economically disadvantaged individuals. As we know, the percentage of economically disadvantaged individuals is definitely greater in our communities. The one area that they addressed regarding stigma is also greater in our African American communities. The re-port stated that 20-25 percent of individuals in the USA suffer from some type of mental illness, however, the majority of those individual go undiagnosed. Because of the tendency for families to deny, ignore or even attempt to hide mental illness of family members, I am sure that the percentage of undiagnosed individuals in African American communities is considerably higher. The fact that there is a significant disparity in access to all health care for economically disadvantaged individuals increases these numbers.
For our communities, I would recommend that extra effort be given to educating the members of our community regarding the nature of mental illness in an attempt to reduce stigmatization. People need to be informed that mental illness is a physical condition, like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. It is not some illness for which we need to be a-shamed.
I am a member of the Jacksonville chapter of the National Association of Black Psychologists. We offer an annual conference in May on the Edward Waters College Campus on Mental Health Issues in our African American communities, however, that is just a start! Much work needs to be done regarding mental health issues in our communities.
You can access the complete report referenced above at: www.jcci.org
Suzan Armstrong-West, Ph.D., LMHC Associate Professor of Psychology, Edward Waters College.