Prince George’s County Council member Karen Toles served as moderator of the “Changing Minds Mental Health Conference: The State of Mental Health in the Minority Community. It was held July 30 at The Sanctuary at Kingdom Square church in Capitol Heights, Md.


Karen Toles represents District 7 on the Prince George’s County Council. (Courtesy Photo)

“There is so much stress on you,” the Democratic Party council member said to the predominantly Black female audience. “I remember what first lady Michelle Obama said in her speech to the Democratic convention. She said that as bad as things can get for us, there is always someone that is worse off than us.”

Toles added, “We Black folks don’t want to talk about mental health. What we have here is a stigma-free, open dialogue on mental health.”

Dr. D. Kim Singleton, author of the book “Broken Silence,” said mental health challenges are more common in the Black community than many think. “Twenty million Americans are suffering from depression according to the National Institutes of Health,” Singleton said. “However, 12 percent of Black women get treated for depression.”

Collette M. Harris, executive director of the Prince George’s County chapter of the National Association of Mental Illness, said one in five adults will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime and one in 10 children will be diagnosed the same.

“The thing is that one day you can seem okay and the next day you are somebody else,” Harris said. “Mental illness doesn’t discriminate based on race, sex, educational attainment, income level and social status. Mental illness isn’t curable, but it is treatable.”

Singleton said many people “walk around in pain.” “That pain surfaces in the form of mood, anxiety, and bipolar disorder,” she said. “There is a

mood disorder called dysthymia that affects a number of people without revealing itself openly. It is triggered by situational circumstances such as problems with work, children, and money issues, and can show itself in such ways as people who eat too much, sleep too much, and unexplained crying.”You consistently feel bad and it affects your self-esteem.”

Singleton said cultural factors of being Black in America add to this mood disorder. “We are still dealing with mental health issues surrounding slavery,” she said. “During slavery we learned to grin and bear pain, and we do the same today to a certain extent. We have learned to hold in our pain and think that is a normal state of being.”

Singleton said, “Today, many insurance companies will pay for mental health treatment and while therapy can be expensive some therapist have sliding scales based on the ability to pay. There have been times when I have treated people when they didn’t have the money.”

There was a panel discussion on the role of the church in facing mental health challenges. The Rev. Debyii Sababu-Thomas of the Ward Memorial AME Church of Washington, D.C. said “so many of us are on the edge,” and cited the lyrics of the 1982 hit by rapper Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message.”

“So many people are one catastrophe, one injury, and one accident from going over the edge. There is a crisis in leadership in the Black community because so many of our leaders have serious mental pressures,” she said.

The Rev. Peggy Maclin of The Sanctuary at Kingdom Square said the church should get more involved in their congregants mental health. “In the past, pastors talk, pray, and send their members back to the wolves,” Maclin said. “Pastors should counsel their members and recommend a therapist if needed. There are members who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit disorder and we just can’t pray those things away.”

Pamela Creekmur, health officer at the Prince George’s County Department of Health, told the gathering that the county has a number of resources to deal with mental health challenges and is only a phone call away. “If you dial 3-1-1, we can connect you with services,” she said. “Mental health is a chronic disease and the county is working on a plan to deal with it that way in the long haul.”