African Americans face stigma with mental health care - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

African Americans face stigma with mental health care

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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Some people have a hard time talking about mental illness. For many African Americans, that topic can come with negative connotations. So much so, their problems can be overlooked or ignored. It's a mistake mental health experts say can have terrible consequences.

Workers with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, also known an NAMI in Huntsville, help people seek treatment for all kinds of mental health issues: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and more. The help they offer is available to everyone, but NAMI president Jacqueline Wilson said she doesn't see a lot of African Americans walk through her door.  

"We get very little walk-ins," she said. "We get a lot of phone calls." 

But Wilson said those calls rarely result in actual visits. 

"We've found out that a lot of our mentally ill are going to their pastors," she said.  "Especially African Americans, that's the first place they will go rather than seek service at the Mental Health Center or seeking counseling anywhere else."

Seeking help from a spiritual leader rather than a counselor or a therapist is a common stigma in the African American community. Wilson said some of African Americans are afraid to admit they are going to a therapist for fear of appearing 'crazy' so they would go to church instead.  Because of that stigma, Wilson said MANI is working on building a bridge between pastors and potential patients through their sharing hope program.

Officials believe mental health issues may have gotten the best of Miriam Carey.  Thursday afternoon she rammed barricades and led police on a chase near the Capitol building. Wilson said tragedies like this make her wonder if she'd gotten the proper help.

In hopes of getting treatment to those who need it, Wilson wants anyone who is struggling with a disorder or the decision to get help to know they are not alone.  

"There are a lot of people out there like you," she said.  "Call your local NAMI, your local mental health center and your pastor.  There's somebody who will help you seek services." 

Mental health awareness week is October 6th- October 12th.

Wilson said crews with NAMI will be going door to door in local neighborhoods to pass out literature and educate the public on mental health.

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