Smiling Sisters

According to the Centers for Disease Control mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” ( Many people confuse mental health with mental illness. Mental illness is defined as “collectively all diagnosable mental disorders or health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and or impaired functioning.” (

The purpose of national mental health month is to bring awareness to mental illness and related health issues. In the past mental health as a whole was not discussed in much of the United States. Awareness of mental health and mental illness increased over the years, but gaps remain in certain ethnic groups. One group in particular is African Americans.

As an African American Woman, I have seen the stigma associated with mental health and mental illness. African Americans usually seek medical attention after they have tried to care for themselves with home remedies. When it comes to mental health and or mental illness in the African American community it was not acknowledged or discussed.

I recall when my mother when to see psychiatrist and came home and informed my grandmother that we have a dysfunctional family. My grandmother immediately told my mother that the so-called doctor she was seeing knew nothing about her and the family and she did not want to hear anything else about the subject. Such a discouraging response could have sent my mother off the deep end but thankfully she continued to see her psychiatrist and was able to get the treatment she needed for her depression.

Believe it or not many African American households have the same attitudes about expressing feelings about mental health and or mental illness. One of the reasons behind this view is the lack of trust in medical professionals. If you go to the doctor and express anything that is something other than positive than it can somehow be used against you and will result in something happening to you or your family. Many African Americans still have this belief. As time progresses and technology advances more African Americans are acknowledging mental health and mental illness more importantly seeking out much needed help. For more information on National Mental Health Month check out the National Mental Health Association website