By Moriah Israel, Project Coordinator
Can we talk about the many people find it very difficult to get out of bed in the morning, and others can’t seem to get to sleep in the first place? Can we talk about the young boys being reprimanded in their classrooms distracting themselves from the memories of how their families used to be before their fathers were arrested? What about the crippling sense of guilt and hopelessness experienced by the dads behind bars who were fired and took their frustrations out on their wives? How about the hard-working grandmothers who have taken a little too kindly to Mr. Jack Daniels while helping the sleepless mothers to care for troubled children and supporting their incarcerated sons?
These are real things. We all have experienced depression at some time or another, some of us drive ourselves crazy with what-ifs, some of us obsess over the negative repercussions of touching germy things, and others of us are distracted by the spiders in the corner that no one else seems to notice. However, there exists a tentative reserve in the African-American community when it comes to acknowledging the ailments of the mind. We are often willing to accept that everyone experiences some physical ailment; be it bad eyesight, acid reflux, cardiovascular disease, or acne, we prepare for it, treat it, and continuously assess it’s progress. Yet mental illness is viewed as a weakness, a dishonorable condition that detracts from our hyper-resilient personas.
However, Mental illness is just as fluid and interconnected as a physical illness; in fact, the two are actually interdependent. In order to address the chronic illnesses that disproportionately impact people of color, we must simultaneously assess the social and psychological factors associated with our lifestyles. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness, that that number mirroring the rates of mental illness within the African American population. African Americans are also more than 50% less likely to seek services and experience a number of barriers if they were to attempt to do so. Issues like accesses to affordable health insurance, higher rates of stigma, language barriers, and culturally insensitive health care systems perpetuate mental health disparities among minority populations.
It isn’t enough to present cookie cutter portion size demonstrations or show people how much sugar is in a pop-tart. We must also create spaces to openly discuss stress eating or the convenience of fast food. We need to individualize our practice, carefully considering the current capacities of our priority population to develop healthier behaviors. We need to consider the recommendation from the CDC in conjunction with access and agency. It is time for our efforts to decrease negative health outcomes to include interventions that address individuals as a whole. When safety is a daily concern, we must understand that portion sizes are a non-factor. We must be willing to meet people where they are and be willing to distance ourselves from what we want them to learn and move closer to what residents want to know.