Wendy Gladney (File photo)

They say what is in the dark must eventually come into the light. Mental illness in the Black community has been in the shadows far too long.

The subject of mental health has been conveniently and intentionally avoided for generations in the Black church, Black neighborhoods, and Black households. We often talk about diabetes and hypertension as the silent killer, but slowly and methodically mental health is becoming the silent killer in our community.

According to the Health Services Office of Minority Health, Blacks are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. While this statistic is disturbing, what is even more disturbing is that while 40 percent of Whites seek care for mental health issues, only 25 percent of Blacks reach out for help.

The stigma around mental health has plagued and paralyzed us. I do not know if it is out of embarrassment, or no access to proper healthcare or shame that causes so many of us to ignore the signs and symptoms and refuse to seek help for ourselves or our loved ones. Mental illness can no longer have low priority in our community, and we must reach and teach that mental health is no less important than physical health.

Mental illness has different disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, or substance abuse. Mental health is an equal opportunity destroyer and affects people from all walks of life. The key thing we all need to remember is there is nothing to be ashamed of if any of us experience any level of mental health issues.  When we see someone that broke their leg and wears a cast, we do not judge them for limping because we can visibly see their problem.  However, when someone is dealing with a mental illness and their behavior is erratic or scary we cannot see what the problem is so we judge them and maybe even label them as crazy.

Many factors contribute to mental health conditions, including biological factors, life experiences or family history. Here are some signs or symptoms you should be aware of to determine if you or someone you know may have a mental health issue. If you are feeling sad, burned out or useless for more than two weeks and you also have feelings of guilt and hopelessness, it could mean you are depressed.

If you have unrealistic or extreme anxiety and worry about life circumstances, you may have an anxiety disorder. If you have heart palpitations, chest pain, feeling smothered, dizziness, trembling, and faintness it may be a sign of a panic disorder.

Spending all your time alone instead of with friends or family could be a sign of stress overload, depression, anxiety, or a social phobia.  Many of the people who seek proper treatment for mental health witness a significant reduction in symptoms and live productive lives despite their challenges.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Over the past few years there has been more attention placed on the importance of all of us being more concerned about our mental health. If you know someone that is struggling, or if you are struggling with anything that affects your mental health, do not be afraid to get help.  Reach out and find resources that can help you with your specific need.

There are various hotlines that can support if you are having thoughts of suicide, or experiencing depression, or any other symptoms.  Educate yourself and do not pass judgment.

The more we all are open and admit when we are struggling with something big or small, that helps shine a light on the need for mental health awareness to continue. It helps those in need to speak up too.

Healing Without Hate: It’s a choice. It’s a lifestyle. Pass it on.


Visit www.WendyGladney.com and www.forgivingforliving.org to learn more. Wendy is a life strategist, coach, consultant, author, and speaker.