Mental Illness & African Americans: Initiative Raises Awareness
By Kristin Blank
Stories That Heal, a national public service advertising campaign created by SAMHSA, the Ad Council, and the Stay Strong Foundation, seeks to spread the word to young African Americans that it’s okay to talk about depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
According to SAMHSA data, in 2008, 6.0 percent of African Americans age 18 to 25 had serious mental illness in the past year. Less than half of these (44.8 percent) received treatment in the past year.
“Raising understanding of and attention to these issues within the African American community will provide greater opportunities for those needing help to receive effective mental health services,” said A. Kathryn Power, M.Ed., Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS).
“The campaign focuses on the ongoing issues of negative attitudes and misunderstanding about mental health problems,” said Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W., CMHS Associate Director for Consumer Affairs, at Howard University on February 23, 2010. The campaign launch was simulcast to colleges and universities around the country.
“We know that social support and social acceptance are key factors in promoting recovery from mental health problems,” he said.
According to Mr. del Vecchio, the campaign is designed to encourage young adults to share their strength by stepping up and talking openly about mental health problems. The central message is “Share Ourselves: Healing Starts with Us.”
The campaign’s Web site, http://storiesthatheal.samhsa.gov, contains five powerful and empowering stories from African Americans who have experienced difficult times and overcome them with the help of their families, friends, and communities.
For instance, author and activist Thabiti Boone witnessed his mother’s failed suicide attempt when he was just 12 years old. He talks about how that day’s events affected him well into adulthood, causing him to experience depression and unresolved, powerful emotions.
In another video, Susan L. Taylor, editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence magazine, relates how her mother’s depression trickled down—that Ms. Taylor came to believe she was somehow responsible for her mother’s condition.
In each of the five stories—the three others feature a recording artist, a former gang member, and a police officer—the narrators emphasize the power of speaking the truth in helping them to overcome their mental health problems.
Whether they talked to a doctor and received counseling or medication, or if they connected with a family member or friend, each narrator broke out of the crippling sense of isolation and loneliness that mental illness can cause.
In addition to the personal story videos, the Stories That Heal Web site offers radio, print, and outdoor public service announcements bearing messages such as “Depression doesn’t have to keep us down.”
Links to resources such as SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also are provided.
“Every day, so many of us wear the ‘mask’ of wellness that hides our pain from the world,” said Terrie M. Williams, M.S.W., co-founder of the Stay Strong Foundation. “Now is the time to identify and name our pain—minus the myths and the stigmas—and seek the help so many of us need.”
To view the videos and download the PSA materials, visit http://storiesthatheal.samhsa.gov.
To promote recovery from mental health problems within the African American community by encouraging, educating, and inspiring young people to talk openly.
18- to 25-year-olds
Stay Strong Foundation
What a Difference a Friend Makes