Home / Commentary / FACE TO FACE WITH THE STIGMA: Let us stop turning a blind eye to mental illness and address it instead
FACE TO FACE WITH THE STIGMA: Let us stop turning a blind eye to mental illness and address it instead

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FACE TO FACE WITH THE STIGMA: Let us stop turning a blind eye to mental illness and address it instead

By Yvonne Sam
PRIDE Columnist

yvonne-sam“Sheila is crazy” or “Joseph is a little off.”

Yes, we have all heard people utter such statements in reference to someone we know, or we have even made them ourselves.

The unfortunate fact is that many people, who we have dismissed as being crazy may actually be suffering from some form of mental illness. An even more disturbing fact is that these illnesses often go undiagnosed in the Black community.

I do not know since when seeing a psychologist or therapist became such a stigma in the Black community, but I am proffering a bet that it goes back quite a while.

Historically, Blacks have overcome tremendous obstacles, exhibited pride in themselves and are famous for their strength. Yet it appears that these very characteristics are some of the factors that discourage Blacks from seeking help.

The sad thing about mental illness is that some forms of it can be hereditary.

For example, if one individual has a mental illness that goes untreated and that person has children, they might also suffer from the illness. One or more of those children may grow up to have children, and the cycle continues. This is why it is so important to properly address mental illness.

Another complaint that I often heard from teachers is that they have students in their classroom who are obviously mentally challenged; however, when parents are notified, instead of looking into the issue, they deny that the problem exists. It is important to note that some teachers and administrators may be wrong in their assessment, but they may also be right.

The most certain way to determine whether someone is truly mentally challenged is to have them evaluated. Although it is somewhat hurtful and disappointing to have a child with a mental illness, what good lies in ignoring the problem? The cycle of denial in our community has to cease.

Dealing with mentally ill people can be a huge challenge, particularly if that person refuses help. That’s why it’s important for everyone to be observant, including family, friends, doctors, etc.

I know an individual who definitely suffers from some form of mental illness. Even a stranger who never observed this person would be able to conclude there is an issue.

However, the parent of this individual ignores the problem, and in addition the social workers are ignoring the problem. We need to stop passing the buck, we need to stop waiting for the next person to deal with the problem; we need to be proactive.

What we all need to realize is that unless we address mental health issues within our community, crime and neglect of children will continue to rise. The ills we currently experience will only get worse if we continue to be a society in denial. Time for serious consideration following this realization.

From a professional standpoint, I am a strong proponent of counseling, therapy and medicine that work towards the treatment of mental illness. Being the recipient of such services does not imply that a person is less-than or will be frowned upon, instead it means that they are being extremely proactive in their quest to be as healthy as possible.

This message needs to be driven home: treatment is good. More of us need to embrace it for ourselves or for those we love. Doing so will eventually result in a stronger, healthier community.

Mental health issues can consume and turn individuals into either a shadow of themselves, or their very own antithesis.

Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.

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