Black Greeks Address Youth Mental Health

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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Three alumni chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the District’s graduate chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity teamed up to present “Mental Health Awareness Day.”

The Xi Omega, Xi Theta Omega and Rho Mu Omega of AKA in conjunction with the Alpha Omega chapter of Omega and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) co-sponsored the event April 8 at the Kingsbury Center in the District of Columbia. Theresa McDonaldson-DePasse, a member of the Xi Omega chapter and a leader at the event, said it is important for Blacks to come to grips with the reality of mental illness.

“One in five Americans suffers from a mental health disease,”McDonaldson-DePasse told the AFRO. “All of us are under pressure at some point and deal with things such as professional disappointments, a breakup of a marriage, or something traumatic then we go through a period of sadness and that is normal. However, when this sadness is prolonged, something is wrong and mental illness sets in. There is a lot of mental illness in the Black community.”

The Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in 2016 that Blacks are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult Whites; Blacks living below the poverty line are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty; Blacks are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness than are adult Whites; and Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than White teenagers.

Janiene Ausbrooks is the office manager for the District office of NAMI. In her address to the audience, Ausbrooks told the story of her struggle with mental illness. She talked about being in a competitive high school situation where she had trouble keeping up with her White counterparts and began to blame herself.

As Ausbrooks moved forward in her life, she said she began to unwind psychologically and one day, after she traveled to New York, she said. “I thought that somebody was after me.” I called my uncle and he persuaded me to go to counseling.”

Ausbrooks said that mental illness “is a reality for a lot of people, particularly African Americans.” She added that 1 in 17 Americans have a serious mental illness and half of all Americans will have suffered a mental episode by the age of 14.

Ausbrooks said there are several signs of possible mental illness. “The symptoms can be excessive worry or fear,” she said. “There can also be extreme mood changes and difficulty in eating and socializing as well as difficulty in perceiving reality. Drugs and alcohol can also trigger mental illnesses, too.”

Omega’s national program “Brother, You’re on My Mind” focuses on Black males in the college and early adulthood years, where depression can set in due to changes in lifestyle and life circumstances. In a paper published by Omega and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, statistics show that suicide is the third-leading cause of death for Black men ages 15-24; Black men ages 20-24 have the highest suicide rate among Blacks of all ages, male and female and young Blacks are much likely than White youth not to have used a mental health service during the year.

Donnie Lucas, the Basileus (president) of Alpha Omega chapter of Omega Psi Phi, said young Black males need not suffer in silence. “There are resources available to help young African-American males and adult African American males deal with depression in that demographic,” he said. “We are interested in uplifting males in all age groups.”

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