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Getting help for mental health in African-American communities

Posted at 5:54 PM, May 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-08 17:54:35-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Anxiety, depression, and relationships, those are the top three reasons local mental health experts say people come to them to get counseling.

But they say not everyone in the African-American community is getting the help they need to deal with those issues.

Historically in the African-American community, there has been a negative stigma attached to going to a professional to get help for mental health issues.

There are many reasons for this, but the real issue is this idea that you should not go to a stranger and tell them your personal problems.

"Here with you from orientation to graduation," that is the motto of the Office of Counseling Services at Florida A&M University. They do constant outreach on campus, trying to spread the message, that having problems is normal and it is not only okay, but crucial to seek help if you need it, especially among the African-American community.

"There is a stigma. It used to be really, really, really bad, but it's gotten better. It's gotten better because now you have more people in college who understand about mental health," said Dr. Anika Fields, Office of Counseling Services Director at FAMU.

Dr. Fields says the stigma is generational and for many students at FAMU there is a message that's been drummed into them since childhood by their families.

"You don't take your business and put it in the street. You talk to your mom , your dad, your grandma, your pastor or your doctor. You don't talk to strangers about your personal problems," said Dr. Fields.

College is stressful and not getting help for mental health issues can result in even more serious problems or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

That's why at orientation, Dr. Fields says she talks to not only students but also their parents. She tells them that if their children say they are having a hard time, the parents should recommend counseling.

"Call us, come in and talk to us. It's not a bad thing, counseling. We won't put you in a box, we don't judge," said Dr. Fields. "We just want to help you and steer you in the right direction so you can graduate."

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.

Dr. Temple Robinson, the CEO of Bond Community Health Center, says if mental illness does go untreated it could, among other things, increase the risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and/or self-medication, turning to drugs and alcohol to escape.