T.V. and film actress, Jenifer Lewis was on hand earlier this month at the California African American Museum, to lend knowledge and experience on the subject of Black mental health, during a dialog facilitated by the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective.
Proceeds from the fundraising event, dubbed “Black Healing Remixed,” went to help B.E.A.M. in its ongoing efforts to train community leaders across the country to understand and support mental health, particularly in Black communities. B.E.A.M. also offers resources, tools and economic support for mental health professionals working in underserved areas, said its officials.
“It’s very important for me to tell my story,” Lewis said.
“I tell it all, so that the community might learn from it. This is my story. I don’t keep secrets. We’re only as sick as our secrets. I tell the truth, I lay it all on the slab.”
And tell her story she did.
Lewis was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1990, but she said during an interview published on blackdoctor.org, that she knew something was wrong long before then. She said she discovered as much when her father died 20 years ago. She had been screaming and crying, “wanting to be let out of the dark,” she explained.
“I was overwhelmed with my grief, unable to handle my feelings,” Lewis said.
“I cried and cried…”
An estimated 2.3 million Americans have bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, according to medical experts at Mental Health America.
“A person with bipolar disorder can go from feeling very, very high (called mania) to feeling very, very low (depression). With proper treatment, people can control these mood swings and lead fulfilling lives. While the rate of bipolar disorder is the same among African Americans as it is among other Americans, African Americans are less likely to receive a diagnosis and, therefore, treatment for this illness. Most African Americans with bipolar disorder are going undiagnosed and untreated,” they said.
Those who attended the event received a self-care gift set, which included aromatherapy candles, herbal teas and local mental and sexual health resources. Signed copies of Jenifer Lewis’ bestselling memoir, “The Mother of Black Hollywood” were also available.
In the end, Lewis commissions everyone, but especially those suffering with mental illness:
“All it takes is an extra few minutes each day,” Lewis said in the blackdoctor.org interview.
“When you are depressed, you don’t want to see people. You don’t want to see light. Now, when I wake up I purposely put a smile on my face, open up the curtains and blinds to let light in. To be the light, you have to see the light. That’s why I am healthy.
“So, when asked what’s next for the decorated, award-winning actress and singer, she answered with a smile on her face and said,
“I’ve learned to live in the moment. You should never say, ‘I’ll be happy when ___.’ Spend your time saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘what is it you would like.’ If in fact, you can imagine it, you already have it.”