YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Mental health is a topic that still many people feel uncomfortable talking about, making treatment and diagnosis harder. In the African-American community, advocates say the stigma can be even worse than for other ethnic groups.
Those advocates say there are many barriers that keep people from seeking treatment.
According to the CDC, 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness. Mental Health America estimates 16 percent of African-Americans reported having a mental illness in the past year.
“I tell people, you have Jesus and a psychiatrist or a therapist. You don’t have to choose,” said Rev. Lewis Macklin, Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church.
Rev. Macklin has organized the African-American Wellness Walk since 2013. Every year, medical professionals from all over the Valley give free care to the community.
“Sometimes we have a tendency to normalize our trauma,” Rev. Macklin said.
He says that racism is one of the biggest contributors to mental health struggles.
“My 10-year-old has heard the word, the “N” word, said to him, and I’m like, who would say things like that?” said Valerie Burney with the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
The stigma is still attached to mental health problems, which advocates say can be deeper in the Black community.
“Black males don’t cry, they don’t feel like that. That’s totally untrue but that is how a lot of them are raised,” Burney said.
“Many who struggle with mental health challenges, they show their strength that they try to be resilient,” Rev. Macklin said.
Raymond Spires knows the struggle to remain strong under terrible circumstances. His son was shot and killed during the Torch Nightclub shooting.
“I haven’t had a choice but to keep my physical side together and people see me and they say, ‘Oh, he looks to be strong, to be 66 years old,’ but they don’t know that’s just the exterior, but inside, there’s a tug of war going on,” Spires said.
He says he has leaned on family to help him and would like to seek out grief counseling.
“There were some people in Pennsylvania. They had a group and they’ll write me but they’re up in Pennsylvania and I don’t have transportation to get there. But I would like to talk to someone who have lost a child like I have,” Spires said.
Reaching out, though, is the biggest step on a long journey.