A few weeks ago, more than two dozen students, mostly Black, were involved in a violent early morning weekend brawl at a local college hangout near the campus where I teach. In our increasingly digital age and our 24/7 media cycle, the news spread like wildfire throughout town in matter of hours. Moreover, pictures of the melee were supposedly posted on you tube (I am sure they were) for anyone to witness. Several students were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and other related charges. The fact that students were arrested for such violent behavior as not surprising and quite frankly, expected. What was more notable was the fact it came to light that several of the students involved in such a violent confrontation suffered from mental illness.
Upon hearing this information, my thoughts had flashbacks to other recent stories of similar incidents like the September 16th mass murder rampage of navy shipyard employee Aaron Alexis.In the gripping saga, a Connecticut mother, Miriam Carey who obsessed with deluded paranoia that President Obama was directly manipulating and controlling her life. The horrific suicide of a 64-year-old black man from New Jersey later identified as John Constantino who doused gasoline over his body, lit a match and killed himself. In each of these cases, the individual was black.
Needless to say, each of these stories made national headlines. Not surprisingly, much of the blogosphere, including many segments of the black blogosphere were ripe with intense commentary about these three individuals, each whose life, unfortunately came to a tragic end. What also came out such tragic misfortune was the beginning of a dialogue on a topic that has been far too ignored in the Black community -- mental illness. While there have been some black health experts and others who have long warned about the mental health crisis that afflicts a number of black Americans, more often that not, too many people have dismissed such a disease that we (black folks) are historically a strong race of people able to withstand any sort of adversity (which has largely been true) and therefore are largely immune from a mental illness. Rather, this is a dilemma that primarily affects only whites and a few other non-white groups. Such a belief is dangerously misguided.
In fact, according to the American Association of Suicide Study, suicide is the third most common cause for young blacks between 15 to 24 years old. The study also confirmed that fact black men are five times more likely to commit suicide than black women. The shocking suicides of iconic legendary Soul Train host Don Cornelius and superstar linebacker Junior Seau in 2012 were two examples of two seemingly successful, super achieving black men who, from outside view, seemed to have all, yet were internally empty and depressed inside. Their deaths sent shock waves throughout the black community.
While there has long been various stigmas associated with mental illness among people of all races and ethnicities, much of the black community has largely been in denial. Specific reasons that we tend to be more reluctant in seeking out treatment than other groups vary. For some blacks, admitting and confronting the fact that he or she suffers from mental illness makes them appear vulnerable. Denial is commonplace. The perception that other people may think of them as being "crazy," "unhinged" etc... is common. For others, religious beliefs can also come into play. There are black people who feel that prayer is the only form of counseling and medication required to take care of whatever trials and tribulations they are currently going through. Moreover, there is the "keep your personal business your personal business" mindset that some blacks (not all), harbor with the belief that a person should not be putting their business out there for others to witness prevents others form seeking the treatment they need.
Truth be told, it is not really all that surprising that certain black Americans would suffer from mental health issues given the disproportionate number of blacks who suffer from racism, poverty, prejudice, personal slights and other forms of individual and systematic discrimination. In some cases, even for these who may be aware of their situation, financial limitations and other factors can be a barrier to seeking treatment. Overtime, such an untreated diagnosis can likely cause mental and physical deterioration of a person's health. The cold, hard truth is that mental illness is a disease that can be a potentially debilitating enemy to all those afflicted with it and should (in fact must) be diagnosed and dealt with aggressively.