Saturday, November 6, 2010

This Week: Mind Your Business

BPHSN family and followers, it is my pleasure to introduce this week's guest blogger, Jana Baldwin. Jana is the author of, an alum of George Washington's School of Public Health and Health Services, and most importantly, a founder of the BPHSN blog! I'll let her do the rest of the talking...

I have been told by many that I am “over-the-top,” “too pushy,” “crazy,” among many other things when I discuss the topic of mental health and illness.  I have personally experienced mental health issues in my own life since a young girl and it has been painful to watch my brother go through serious but different mental health issues as well.  I am grateful that my mother took me to see a psychologist since I was about 7 years old.  I felt like everyone in my class knew that I was different and I knew that I wasn’t “crazy.”  My mother always reassured me that I was going to the psychologist to discuss health issues and that was one way of breaking down the stigma.  At some point in my life I was diagnosed with ADD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Bi-polar to name a few.  At the end of the day I am sure I am all of the above and I am grateful for educating myself around how I can make better choices to treat my chronic illnesses- which happen to be in my brain.  I still find myself at 28 years old running into road blocks and getting into situations that I knew I should have avoided, but every time the situation is a little bit easier and a little bit better.  Frankly, the best psychiatrist I have ever had told me “fake it till you make it.”  I have been doing that very thing ever since.  I give a little background about myself before I make statements about anything involving the mental health so you know where I am coming from.

Living in DC for a few years, I have spent many a days, hours, jobs, internships, volunteering, or random conversations talking about mental health and the black community.  It is a topic that is near to my heart as I watch people close to me, and people I don’t know struggle to a point that I don’t think is necessary.  One could say (and people do) “Who is this white girl and why does she care about me or think she knows anything about me?”  Well, I don’t know too much in life but I will say that DC has one of the most comprehensive mental health services in the country.  When I was without insurance I was able to go to the local mental health community center and receive services including a case manager, a psychiatrist, Rx coverage etc.  In Utah, where I am from this is unheard of.  There are no wrap-around services for the poor (yes I just say poor instead of underprivileged).  So, I wonder how we as a community reduce the stigma in the black community to encourage people to seek treatment, to know that treatment is available, but mostly to understand the benefits of mental health in general.  I wonder how many young men would not meet law enforcement or get locked up,  how many more kids would graduate high school,  if there had been some kind of intervention.  Everyone can benefit from learning how to communicate more effectively, working through anger, etc.  Access in the District is available.  Sometimes even having an “intervention” doesn’t solve anything. I am not saying that only reducing stigma around mental health issues in the black community will change everything but, frankly, I think it’s a start.

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Service Administration recently launched a new campaign called “Stories that Heal” geared towards black young adults. Check out the link and tell me what you think!

For all you public health folks that are into stats:
  • Poverty level affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are 4 times more likely to report psychological distress.
  • African Americans are 30% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites.
  • Non-Hispanic Whites are more than twice as likely to receive antidepressant prescription treatments as are Non-Hispanic Blacks.
  • The death rate from suicide for African American men was five times that for African American women, in 2005.



  1. I completed an undergraduate research project that examined attitudes about mental health and the coping strategies black undergrad students on my campus. I wanted to understand the stigma behind the students’ underuse of mental health services compared to other groups of students. In holding focus groups it was revealed that a number of black students associated mental health with someone being “crazy.” Also, students assumed that the majority of mental health professionals present on campus were White, and therefore could not relate to their experiences as a Black student. Students said that they feared being judged or feared that their issues would reinforce preconceived racial notions held by the White professional. So instead, many Black students confided in other black faculty or staff on campus to seek support for various emotional challenges that were faced. This alternative behavior was also seen among black LGBT students. Racial prejudice along with the history of racism and racial relations in the U.S. is a topic that oftentimes goes ignored when talking about how to effectively intervene in public health issues. Racism is a reality and it’s inherent in the foundations and ongoing development of this country. Until we can fully bring issues of racism into the conversations of areas such as public health, I don’t think we can completely accomplish our goals of dramatically reducing/eliminating health disparities.

    -Sondrina, Health Promotion

  2. Very true, Sondrina. Many of our health disparity issues are always traced back to the breakdown of the black family, and the racism we as a people have faced. It bleeds into every facet of our livelihood (school, relationships, health, careers)- and now that we've started talking about it and defining the problem, we need to figure out ways to change.


“Ultimately, happiness rests on how you establish a solid sense of self or being. Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in your life. To be filled each day with a rewarding sense of exhilaration and purpose, a sense of tasks accomplished and deep fulfillment- people who feel this way are happy. Those who have this sense of satisfaction even if they are extremely busy are much happier than those who have time on their hands but feel empty inside.” – Daisku Ikeda