In the past I’ve written briefly about mental health and the crippling effect it has on the Black community, but I have never written anything in length because I never felt qualified. After a conversation with my friend Nadine surrounding the a character on the hit show “Empire”, coupled with her stories, I thought it would be a great idea to have her write a few blog posts focusing on the issues as well living in a community that doesn’t see it as a real disease.  The series will also include two interviews (possibly three).  My hope is that this series will help shed a light on a very important issue.  That said, I introduce to you Nadine M.

wpid-i-cant-believe-its-me1.jpg.jpegI was scrolling through my timeline on Facebook one day after Empire had aired. In the episode, the main character’s Son suffered two mental breaks. One happened on an elevator with only his two siblings as witnesses, his younger brother singing in order to calm him down, all three in tears. The second occurred in a glass boardroom for the whole firm to watch. After a manic tirade, the character was tranquilized by EMT’s and taken to the hospital while his father and wife looked on. Both scenes were equally heartbreaking. Yet, many social media posters seemed to think they were funny. “Andre fought the basketballs and the balls won,” said one. “His crazy ass needs to be locked up,” said another. On and on similar comments went. Shaken, I logged off.

The character on the show, Andre, suffers from bi-Polar disorder. He had recently gone off his medication after being emotionally hurt by his father. This event triggered a flurry of manic decisions and behaviour followed by what is known as a mental break. While off of the prescribed medication, someone who suffers from the illness can go for days without eating or sleeping. They experience mood swings so sharp that you and they have no idea whether they are up or down. Eventually, when the break happens it can be so severe that the person may become a threat to themselves and you. The only way to settle them down at that point is sedation and hospitalization. This was the scene that played out on this episode of Empire.

In real life, approximately 2.6 percent of American adults or 6.1 million people live with bi-polar disorder. Yet, people laughed. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness*, 1 in 4 adults or approximately 61.5 million Americans experiences mental illness in a given year. 1 in 17 live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. Approximately 20% of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 – 15 the number is approximately 13%. Almost 26 % of homeless adults living in shelters have serious mental illness. About 20% of youth in the juvenile justice system lives with severe mental illness. Of these numbers here is one of the most sobering: About 60% of adults and 50% of the youth diagnosed have received no mental health services in the previous year. The group that seeks help the least? African Americans. As you can see by the numbers cited above, this is no laughing matter.In the coming weeks I will be discussing mental illness in its different forms. We will explore the history of mental illness and its current role. Hopefully, we will find answers (and hopefully solutions) to the following questions:

  • Why then do we laugh?
  • Why is this issue not spoken about more?
  • Can it happen to me?
  • Why is “crazy” a moniker that we carelessly throw around?
  • What can we do to help?
  • How can we help someone suffering or a caretaker of a person with a diagnosis?

I look forward to hearing your comments.

One Love, Nae.

*1 National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental illness Facts and Numbers, March 2013. Reviewed by Ken Duckworth,MD.