Attendees listen

Attendants listen to mental health organisation representatives present about their services.

In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives designated July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Awareness month. This was an effort to raise awareness and understanding on the issue of mental health, especially among multicultural communities. On July 12, Ekklesia International Family Life and Worship Center hosted a minority health awareness event, hoping to accomplish the same thing.

The forum featured mental health providers in D.C. and Maryland discussing the services and resources available to individuals and family members seeking understanding of and access to mental health treatment. Presenters included board member for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Prince George’s County Chapter, Roxanne Taylor; Its Getting Better All the Time clinical supervisor, Arnetta Legree; Family Matters of Greater Washington senior clinical manager, Rashida Winslow; and founder and CEO of RIMS Center for Enrichment and Development, Yolanda Coleman.

According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) fact sheet, African Americans in the United States are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses than their Caucasian counterparts. “One of the reasons why people don’t seek out mental health services, is because they’re too busy trying to survive,” said Arnetta Legree, a licensed clinical social worker and servant leader for Its Getting Better All the Time. “Sometimes you’re living life and you don’t realize that we’re killing ourselves by some of the things that we have going on with us. And it takes someone to come along to say ‘don’t forget there’s help for depression . . . or that there’s help out there.’”

It’s Getting Better All the Time Mental Health Outreach, was started years ago by Legree as a faith-based non-profit organization providing information and support to individuals and family members. Many African Americans with mental health issues do not receive the appropriate medical and mental health care they need because they are often at a socioeconomic disadvantage. Because more African Americans are homeless, incarcerated, and victims of crime could place African Americans at a higher rate of mental disorder.

Among other things, faith is a significant factor in dealing with some individual mental health issues, Clark of Progressive Life Center, a mental health and social services organization that helps individuals and families in the District, Maryland and other states in America, added. The organization offers treatment and mental health services to individuals and families.

“Our whole goal is to preserve the family unit,” Clark said. “We want to keep children with their families. We get situations where families are working two jobs and so they leave children home by themselves. So there are so many reasons why people are struggling, which are really to maintain and survive.”

Such analysis rings true for a single parent like Monique Duell, who struggled to take care of her brother; her sister, who has physical needs and her two sons, one that is a special needs child. Duell reached out to the Progressive Life Center where she was able to receive support through its kinship care program.

“The program taught me how to manage, how to balance, how to be wise with my money, and have a relationship with God,” Duell said. “During that time period, I was on survival mode. I didn’t have time to breathe. I didn’t have time for me. I had to just keep going.”

Through her experience with the program, Duell was able to balance taking care of her relatives and children. She was inspired to write her first book, “How Do I Handle a Special Needs Child,” which touches on her life as a single mother with a special needs child.

An Office of Minority Health report concluded that African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites, and the death rate from suicide for African-American men was almost four times that for African-American women in 2009.

“The more education that we have out there, the more questions that people can ask, the more support that they can get, and the more help that we can give can help them to get better with time,” said Legree.

Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO