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Stacia L. Brown

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No Shame Day: Working to Eradicate Mental Illness Stigma in the Black Community

Posted: 06/28/2012 4:19 pm

It is the family folklore, whispered into humid huddles in the corners of summer reunions: She ain't been right since that no-count husband of hers left her; all she needs is a good man and she'll come back to herself. It's the code words, the shorthand, the oversimplification: Oh, he ain't never been quite right in the head. and "Something's" wrong with her. It's myth of the church-going cure: This ain't nothin' but a demonic attack and prayer can cast it out. It's the blame-placing and illogical advice: It's because she used to drink. If he stayed away from them drugs, his head would clear. Get saved. Eat better. Get a better job and be more self-sufficient. Forgive everyone who wronged you (Grudge-holding poisons the mind).

Our need for the first annual observation of No Shame Day on Monday, July 2 could be traced to any number of get-right-quick antidotes. Despite the growing number of mental illness diagnoses in the black community, many are loath to accept their legitimacy. According to the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association, just one in three African-Americans who need mental health care receives it, and those who do are likelier to stop treatment early or receive follow-up care.

The American Psychiatric Association further states:

Culturally diverse groups often bare a disproportionately high burden of disability resulting from mental disorders. This disparity does not stem from a greater prevalence rate or severity of illness in African Americans, but from a lack of culturally competent care, and receiving less or poor quality care. For some disorders, such as schizophrenia and mood disorders, there is a high probability of misdiagnosis because of differences in how African-Americans express symptoms of emotional distress.
Their research indicates that culturally competent care, which includes an understanding of the various ways that mental illness is stigmatized, minimized, and explained away in the black community, is key.

The Siwe Project, founded by Nigerian writer and mental health advocate Bassey Ikpi in memory of her teenage friend, Siwe Monsanto, is working toward providing that culturally competent care by instituting the first ever day international day of advocacy for people of color who are coping with mental illness and their family, friends, and allies.

Ikpi has chronicled her own experience with Bipolar II disorder in Essence, The Root, xojane, MyBrownBaby and various other publications. Her courage in sharing her personal story has served as an inspiration to others who long to see their mental health challenges destigmatized.

No Shame Day encourages all those affected to share their personal stories about the various ways in which mental illness has affected their lives on The Siwe Project's official website, as well as on Twitter.

Those who intend to participate are being asked to provide only the parts of their experience that they feel comfortable sharing. At minimum, The Siwe Project asks that you answer the following: Who are you? What mental illness are you or your loved one living with? How were you or he/she diagnosed? What propels you to speak publicly about the illness? How are you or your loved one treating the illness (therapy, meds, support groups, exercise, etc) and what prompted you/them to seek treatment?

In the interest of uniformity and solidarity, please begin and end your stories with "My name is ____, and I have No Shame." Participants who will be using Twitter as their chosen social media platform should include the hashtag #NoShame at the end of each related tweet.

Raise your voice on July 2 in support of the first ever No Shame Day. July is also National Minority Mental Health Month. Log into TheSiweProject.org on July 2, and extend the advocacy month-long and year-round. #Noshame should be our daily mantra.

 

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