In recent weeks I have had several friends who, even though they were in serious and fairly obvious emotional pain, have been extremely hesitant to speak with a counselor — meaning a shrink (a psychologist or psychiatrist) — about it. On some level, they were afraid to admit or to have someone else suggest that they were a little, well, crazy. Well, they are! We all are a little crazy.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over a third of people in most countries report problems at some time in their life which meet criteria for diagnosis of one or more of the common types of mental disorder. And according to the National Institute of Mental Illness, fully a quarter of all adults in the U.S., and 15% of all youth in the U.S. (13-18 years old) suffer from some form of mental illness. Frankly, I believe the number is much higher. There is a 46.3% lifetime prevalence of children 13-18 year old to have some mental illness.
With Black America, based on what we have gone through and dealt with over the past 300 some odd years, I would argue that the percentage of (most undiagnosed and mostly untreated) mental illness of some sort is well above 50%. More like 65% or more. In other words, folks are in a lot of emotional, psychological and spiritual pain — but they are simply not talking about it, other than talking to themselves. Not good.
In 1996, Mental Health America (MHA) commissioned a national survey on clinical depression. The survey explored the barriers preventing Americans seeking treatment and gauged overall knowledge of and attitudes toward depression. This survey revealed that:
- 63 percent of African Americans believe that depression is a personal weakness, this is significantly higher than the overall survey average of 54 percent.
- Only 31 percent of African Americans believed that depression was a “health problem.”
- African Americans were more likely to believe that depression was “normal” than the overall survey average.
- 56 percent believed that depression was a normal part of aging.
- 45 percent believed it was normal for a mother to feel depressed for at least two weeks after giving birth.
- 40 percent believed it was normal for a husband or wife to feel depressed for more than a year after the death of a spouse.
- Barriers to the treatment of depression cited by African Americans included:
- Denial (40 percent)
- Embarrassment/shame (38 percent)
- Don’t want/refuse help (31 percent)
- Lack money/insurance (29 percent)
- Fear (17 percent)
- Lack knowledge of treatment/problem (17 percent)
- Hopeless (12 percent)
- African Americans were less likely to take an antidepressant for treatment of depression; only 34 percent would take one if it were prescribed by a doctor.
Making matters worse, African-Americans account for only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists, and 4 percent of social workers in the United States.
A Pathway Forward
I freely admit that I am a little off (smile). The reality is that none of us are perfect, so that by necessity means that we are on some level imperfect. And so, if we have imperfections, if we suffer from some pain than manifests itself in depression, or low self image or whatever, the problem is not the pain or the suffering, but doing nothing about it.
What I am saying is that the only truly crazy person, is the person who says they are not crazy at all.
Some people see going to a counselor or therapist as stigmatized, but I say they are wrong. Since I was about 20 years old, I have been seeing a counselor. His name is Reverend Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray, and he basically raised me spiritually in my adult life. I went to Dr. Murray when I had problems and when I was in pain. I went to him when everything seemed just fine. I visit with him often throughout the year today, encouraging him to push me to be "better," and to deal with any "challenges" in my character or personality that he might have picked up. The real point I am making here is that I have made counseling a normal part of my life. You should too.
It has been said that all a psychiatrist is, is a paid friend. Someone that will listen to you, without blame or shame or judgement, and to help you help yourself along the way. We all — can use another friend like this.
Onward and with HOPE
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass) the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum.