by Erica Ayisi (NBCBLK)

Addressing mental illness within the African-American community has, at times, been a taboo topic. Yet, it is a medical condition that impacts every day life and should not be ignored.

The Office of Minority Health of the Department of Health and Human Services reports African-Americans are more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic whites. Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and suicide are few mental health conditions African-Americans suffer from. Trauma, genetics, and environmental factors such as poverty and homelessness are some of the causes of mental illiness among black people.

Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, licensed psychologist and Founder of Therapy for Black Girls has been in the practice of mental health for eight years. After watching “Black Girls Rock” on BET in 2014, she was inspired to “capture some of that same energy in a space related to mental health” by creating a website that makes “mental health topics accessible and relevant to Black women.”

She spoke with us about confronting mental illness head-on, confronting stigmas related to treatment, and the intersection of the Black Church and mental healing.
NBCBLK: How can we recognize signs of mental illness in others? Is it possible to recognize those signs within our selves? What would one look for in terms of signs and symptoms or marked changes in behavior?

Bradford: Typically, what you would be looking for in terms of signs and symptoms are marked changes in behavior. For example, someone becoming way less social than they used to be, someone drinking a lot more than they used to, someone who is usually dressed impeccably looking more disheveled. It is definitely possible to recognize symptoms within ourselves, again by paying attention to changes in our behaviors that are causing impairments in major areas of our lives.

What does treatment entail?

Treatment for a mental illness can involve a lot of different things. It could be talk therapy alone. It could be talk therapy combined with psychiatric medication. It could involve being hospitalized for some time to stabilize symptoms. It could involve an intensive outpatient program. It could be group therapy. It could look very different depending on what symptoms someone is presenting with and the recommendation of the provider.

Why does our community view treatment as something only “white people do?”

Historically, therapy and other treatment for mental health has been very White. I think we are doing a much better job currently of normalizing therapy. I also think that some of this is related to Black people not wanting to be seen as entitled or selfish. Focusing on self can sometimes be seen as a bad thing and we have not historically been taught that it is okay to focus on ourselves, particularly Black women.

Many Blacks rely on their faith and family for guidance during trying times. Can we pray away mental illness?

You cannot pray away mental illness just like you cannot pray away a broken leg. Faith and family can serve as a tremendous support to help in treating a mental illness but it cannot be the only thing. If faith is something that is important to you, then by all means continue to be a part of your faith community and receive that support. But we get into trouble when we see mental illness as a breakdown in faith or as the consequence of a supposed “sin.” That is not accurate and can be terribly damaging to someone who is struggling with a mental illness.

Read the entire interview here.

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