“Maybe your faith isn’t strong enough.” “You should just pray a little harder.” “Girl, the devil is just trying to steal your joy!” Sound familiar? Chances are you’ve said something similar to someone you know who is “going through” a mental health challenge, or someone has said something similar to you.
The truth is, mental health conditions are real! The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 1 in 4 individuals live with a mental health condition. Mental illness does not discriminate and it does not spare individuals of strong faith or people of color! In fact, it is estimated that 75 percent of African Americans do not use traditional mental health services or providers and rely on pastors or clergy for support.
This year, the Austin Area African American Behavioral Health Network partnered with Austin Travis County Integral Care to offer Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) at the 14th Annual Central Texas African American Family Support Conference. Nearly 40 local faith leaders became certified in MHFA by participating in an 8-hour training program that introduced them to risk factors and warning signs of mental illnesses and to recognize when and how to refer an individual for additional support.
Faith communities have to begin to understand that some of the consequences of untreated mental illness include incarceration, homelessness, unemployment and substance use. It is my hope that with increased awareness and education in African American communities, we can decrease the stigma associated with seeking support for mental health conditions and get the help we need and deserve. I would love to hear from you about how your church or faith-based organization provides love and support (or if it is a challenge) to individuals living with mental health conditions and their families.