Code Blue: Rescuing the Taboo of Mental Health in the Black Community

Code Blue: Rescuing the Taboo of Mental Health in the Black Community

Jason Davis

Raise your hand if you know pain.  Every hand went up in response.

It was the request made at ‘Code Blue: A Call for Community Healing’, a free program of speakers, panels and intervention for dealing with mental health issues.  The forum was held at St. Paul’s Community Baptist Church in East New York Brooklyn.

That such a forum was held at a predominately Black church in Brooklyn was significant as the issue of mental health continues to be a taboo subject in the Black community, as well as in their churches.  “It is the pink elephant in the room,” said the church’s Senior Pastor Brawley in the opening remarks.  “Many come to church and shout, but are crying on the inside,” he went on to say.  The church venue was also significant because, “it is the Black community’s place of healing,” said Dr. Eugena Griffin , a clinician on hand to assist individuals in need.

The goal of the program was to create a safe space where addressing mental health issues could be put out in the open.

“Mental health is as important as physical health and spiritual health” said Dr. Janet Taylor, a panelist and resident expert on the Jeremy Kyle Show.  “As Blacks, not paying attention to mental health is killing us,” she said.

“All of us are in pain. All of us have crosses to bear.  All of us have skeletons.  Let’s set the tone for healing,” said program moderator David Miller, co-founder of the Urban Leadership Institute.  “We know that folks in this room are dealing with a lot,” he said.

The moderator navigated the first half of the program through speakers and videos which highlighted some of the negative cause and effects of not dealing with mental health concerns.  Those included falls from grace, depression, absentee father issues and divorce.

Jason Davis, in speaking on a life filled with rage, self hatred and gang banging, gave a powerful confirmation on the need to face mental health issues.  “We didn’t call it depression.  That’s just the way it was,” he said speaking of a home life filled with beatings and all kinds of dysfunction.   “Anything was better than the hell at home.  It was something no one talked about,’ he said.

By sixteen Jason was gang banging full time and began, what he called, a campaign of terror filled with murder, rape and kidnapping

“We were feeding off of each other’s depression,” he said of his experience in a gang.  “People do a lot of destructive things when they think there is no hope,” he said.

“When we don’t deal, we self medicate…through shopping with no money, food, gambling,” said Terrie Williams panelist, speaker and author of Black Pain.  Terrie, spoke about the three hardest words to answer, ‘how are you?’.  She spoke about the benefits of counseling “not just for the events that happened in childhood, but for the day to day items that challenge individuals,” she said.

Kenneth Braswell, from Fathers Incorporated, addressed the issue of absentee fathers.  He spoke of the numerous individuals internationally that deal with what he termed “daddy rage” due to not having relationships with their fathers.   Kenneth spoke about the need to address the things that “are keeping our families apart,” he said.

The panel discussion portion of the program took on the questions of why there is a need to have a conversation about mental health, how to move beyond its stigma in the Black Community and the first steps to getting help.

“At church I heard that depression is a weakness.  All we have to do is pray to get the sin out,” said panelist Dr. Sidney Hankerson from the NY State Psychiatric Center.  Hankerson shared that he grew up in the church and is the son of a church deacon.  “It is not a disease.  We must debunk the stigma in our communities that it is only something white people get,” he went on to say.

To move beyond the stigma we have to “acknowledge something is wrong,” said panelist Dr. Darcel Suite from the Full Circle Life Enrichment Center.  “Be real about what’s going on inside of you,” she said.  Dr. Suite also addressed the issue of medicating for mental health.  “You can’t be afraid of medication.  You take it for diabetes,” she said.

“Anger and stress kill,” said Terrie Williams.  These items are components of the “many diseases Black folks suffer from,” she said.  “We are not speaking our pain.  It creates poison inside of us when we don’t speak it”, she said.

“It’s easier to express anger than pain” said Dr. Taylor.  She believed individuals need to be willing to look at the pain under the anger and that having a therapist can assist in that process.  Terrie Williams spoke about how therapists help patients make connection from childhood that highlight today’s behaviors.  Dr. Hankerson pointed out that studies showed that where fathers are treated for depression the “child gets better” he said.

The program included advice for finding and connecting with a clinician.  Doing research to the same degree that would be undertaken when shopping for a major purchase, should apply when looking for a therapist.  Make sure they are licensed in your current state.  Participants were advised not to be discouraged if they were not connected with a therapist of color as they make up only 3% of the total pool of therapist.  Ask a friend if they know of someone and check medical insurance including Employee Assistance Programs.  and Lifenet (1-800-Lifenet) are also resources that can help connect to a therapist. Those who currently are not insured should contact 311 for resources.  Finally, participants were encouraged to not give up when an initial connection with a therapist is not made.  “It’s a relationship.  You don’t give up on wearing shoes because the first one doesn’t fit,” said Terrie Williams.

After the long program ended, individuals who wanted private consultations were connected with clinicians in rooms for private discussions.   The Code Blue program plans several similar events in other Communities of Color in the upcoming months.

St. Paul’s Community Baptist church is located at 859 Hendrix Street.  The church hosts the popular annual MAAFA event which signifies the healing journey of Black America from Slavery.§



Dr Darcel Suite, Terrie Williams, Dr Sidney Hankerson

Dr Darcel Suite, Terrie Williams, Dr Sidney Hankerson

By: Karen Clements Contact Karen Clements

Published December 2012 Edition

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