Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.'s recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder has shed a spotlight on a very serious problem among African Americans. I wrote a 15-page research paper a couple of months ago for my Pastoral Counseling class entitled, The Black Church and Mental Health. In it I state if the church is going to adequately minister to the emotional needs of her congregants in the 21st century, she is going to have to establish stronger partnerships with mental health providers, and develop new and different approaches for involving the mentally ill and their families in the life of the church.
The following is an excerpt from NPR interview on Talk of the Nation on mental health in the African American community. The guest is Dr. William Lawson. He is a professor and chairman of psychiatry at Howard University College of Medicine. ------------------------------------------------(Excerpt from NPR show, Talk of the Nation) Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder has focused attention on the shame that sometimes accompanies mental health diagnoses in the African-American community. Psychiatrist William Lawson joins NPR's John Donvan to discuss why such a stigma exists.
JOHN DONVAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm John Donvan in Washington. Neal Conan is away. Time was a politician admitting to needing treatment for mental illness was taking a very big chance. Time was, how about time still is? We've just had the case of congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., the Mayo Clinic now confirming that he has been there being treated for a form of bipolar disorder.
But that was only after Jackson, who had disappeared from public view, kept quiet about the reason for two months. We don't know why he chose silence for so long, though we do all understand the need for privacy. But at least Jackson, who is of course African-American, is now getting help.
Put aside the fact that he's a politician. It turns out that black men in general do not get treatment for mental illness at the same rate as other sufferers, though their rates of mental illness are just as high. What is in play there? Whose attitudes count in that equation, the patients' or the system's - or possibly both?...
Welcome, Dr. Lawson, to TALK OF THE NATION.
WILLIAM LAWSON: Thank you.
DONVAN: So what are some of the factors that lead African-American men to be less likely to be getting treatment? Is it that they're less likely to seek it, or is it less available to them?
LAWSON: Unfortunately, it's all of the above. Dr. Satcher in his surgeon general's report noted that there was less accessibility of mental health services for people of color for a variety of reasons. Part of it is that many of the systems simply aren't located proximity to where people of color are. Part of it is that many professionals simply don't know how to diagnose properly African-Americans.
Many African-Americans have a lot of negative feelings about, or not even aware of mental health services. They may not be aware of the symptoms of many mental disorders, or they may believe that to be mentally ill is a sign of weakness or a sign of a character fault.
DONVAN: So there's both practicality, and there's a whole issue of stigma. There's a psychology to the psychiatry.
LAWSON: Exactly, exactly.
DONVAN: To put it that way. I've read in some places that actually the black church plays a role in African-Americans being - not going into the mainstream route to treatment?
LAWSON: I'd put it another way, that African-Americans tend to like to seek treatment or help from those institutions that they're familiar with and trust. Unfortunately, in the past, the church, while it has been very helpful in terms of general medical conditions and putting on health fairs and other support organizations, many times some of the members simply aren't aware that mental disorders of some types are in fact medical problems and need the kind of support and help that can come.
Not to say that spirituality isn't a help. It is a great help. It's not to say that you cannot get support from the church itself, but to say that it's entirely a spiritual weakness, or it's entirely a problem that has to do with your relationship with God is - misses the point. It can be treated just like diabetes, hypertension or anything else in terms of the role of spirituality and support in addressing these issues.
DONVAN: Is there a way to put - to quantify the difference between the amount of treatment that black men are getting and everybody else?
LAWSON: Yes, about - it's about half as likely, right, that they'll not get the appropriate services. We actually did a survey and found that half of the time, the disorder is underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and of those people who are underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed, only about half of them are adequately treated.
And of those that get treatment, and of those people who get treatment, only half of them are adequately treated. So the actual numbers that are appropriately and adequately treated are maybe much smaller, maybe as small as an eighth....
The Black Church and the Role It Plays in the Treatment of Mental Health in African-Americans - BCNN1
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