The ‘Secret Life of Bees’ depressive and eventually suicidal character was appropriately named ‘May’ as it is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Ironically, May also hosts Suicide Prevention Week from May 12th to the 18th, 2013. A pivotal and captivating character, ‘May’ was described by her sisters as “special” or what some may say “eccentric”; euphemisms for persons who suffer from a mental illness.
While it can argued that due to the times (1964) not much was known about mental illness (and in ‘May’s’ case, discrimination and racism probably would have prevented them from receiving help) present day, many Americans don’t seek treatment for their illnesses. This is unnerving, especially when it is estimated that nearly 32.4% or roughly 75 million Americans (adults and children) suffer from some form of a mental disorder at any given time.
By definition, a mental disorder is the disruption of systematic functioning of the brain which includes (and as always not limited to) depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. Some substance abuse particularly alcoholism, eating disorders, ADD, Autism, post traumatic stress and more, all fall under this umbrella. In other words, one in three people are experiencing some form of breakdown in functioning. It has also been noted that women have a higher risk of suffering from a mental disorder.  While there are steps taken to assist those who pose an obvious physical threat to themselves or others, why are those with relatively common disorders less likely to seek treatment?
Author Bebe Moore Campbell noticed that a family member was not himself. She explained that he “stayed awake for days, talked non-stop and spent money recklessly. I was his passenger when he drove close to 100 miles an hour on the freeway. He laughed wildly as he dodged traffic, veered in and out of lanes and ignored my pleas to slow down. He seemed oblivious to the danger. I waited for things to return to normal, but they didn’t.” [2 ]Things would not return to normal until her family sought help. When most people think about mental illness, the man who fights with his reflection on the E train or the orange haired mass murder suspect on the news are conjured up. Remember when Pam’s “crazy” cousin Tammy escaped from the mental ward in Martin’s “One flew over the hoochie’z nest! “ (S5E22), we enjoyed a good laugh at her erratic dance moves and outbursts at imagined adversaries. To this day, I’m yet to pair fava beans and Chianti for fear of raising eyebrows at dinner.
Between the media and extreme public exhibitions of symptoms, many are lead to believe that people with mental illnesses are “crazy” folks that should be locked away from the rest of the world , and “crazy” is something we never want to be. The media stigmatization of mental illness (as if the ads where most of it lists the negative side effects of medications weren’t enough of a deterrent) prevents many people from speaking up or seeking help and treatment. Ms. Campbell learned this first hand and worked hard on the campaign to denounce the stigma that affected not only her family, but her community. Sadly, she passed away before she could see the fruits of her labor.
The stigma is even more pronounced within the African American and Hispanic communities. Ms. Campbell authored many books including ‘ 72 hour hold’ and “ Sometimes Mommy Gets Angry” aimed at educating through storytelling how important it is to seek help. Whether it is cultural or financial reasons, like ‘May’, we keep our special brothas and muñecos close, instead of seeking the professional help they need. Counseling in particular is taboo, as “you don’t talk about your problems with strangers”, effectively negating the possibility of an objective advice. “You just do what you gotta do man, pick up and move on!” is the mentality of most.
Gender roles compound this issue, as men are taught to never show weakness; and especially since they are already fighting for their respect just being a person of color, why would they want to add yet another strike against them?
Even those in the profession like me, are regarded as people who waste other people’s time; and here I thought I was changing and literally saving lives. Taking care of one’s mental health should not be something people feel ashamed to do, but only through education and awareness can we begin to make changes in our loved ones eyes… and even our own. Thanks to her efforts, July was officially named National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month
Actors are banding together to confronting the stigma across the board. Jennifer Hudson, Ashley Judd and producer Jennifer Anniston were among the all- star cast of a Lifetime movie ‘Call Me Crazy’; an eye opening relatable look at what it means to be or deal a loved one with a mental disorder. With the tag line of “Five Stories, One Cause” their campaign hopes to shed light on the subject, and open the doors for understanding and acceptance. I have taken the time to educate myself, now it’s your turn! Please share your thoughts, questions below!
If you or anyone you know may be suffering from a mental illness, or just need someone to talk to, CLICK HERE for more information or you can contact me directly. You can find more Facts and Figures here.