You Can’t “Pray Away” a Mental Health Condition

By Fonda Bryant | Jul. 19, 2017

 

At times, it's hard to believe that over 22 years ago, I almost took my life due to depression. Being a black female and growing up in the 1960's where black people had way more to deal with than mental health conditions, mental health was never really discussed.

Fast forward to 2017, and it’s mind-boggling just how far behind the African-American culture is when it comes to mental health and suicide. There are so many reasons why this is that I could probably write a book on them. However, for this blog, I’m just going to focus on three:

A Mental Health Condition Means You’re “Crazy”

Relentless stigma accompanies mental health conditions. From the words we use—like "crazy,” “cray cray,” “psycho,” “nuts”—to hurtful jokes about people who live with mental health conditions, stigma surrounding mental health in my culture is deep-rooted. But there is no shame in having a mental health condition. The true shame is not getting the treatment you need to have a good life. Let’s all use National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to take the time to learn the facts from the stigmatizing fiction.

African-Americans need to know: A mental health condition is no different than a physical one. Our brains are the most important organ in our bodies and can get sick just like our hearts, lungs and livers. Not only that, you can recover from a mental health condition and lead a healthy life. Further, African-Americans are not immune from mental health conditions, and 5.6% of us die by suicide. Up to about two million (10%) African-American men live with depression.

A Mental Health Condition is a Sign of Weakness

I was going on 35 years old, with no clue that I had clinical depression. I had never been in trouble with the police, didn’t smoke, drink or do drugs. But I found myself sitting in the back of a police car on the way to a mental hospital, and I kept thinking to myself, “What had I done wrong?” When I arrived at the psychiatric hospital and called my mom to let her know where I was, the first thing she said to me spoke volumes: “You just need to be stronger.” This is a battle cry for African-Americans.

Getting help for a mental health condition in my culture’s eyes is a sign of weakness, a personal flaw—not a legitimate, clinical condition. In fact, 63%  of African-Americans believe that a mental health condition is a personal sign of weakness. To be honest, I believe that number is higher. I know when I walked into that mental hospital 22 years ago, I thought it was going to be everything I’d seen on TV and heard my mom talk about. It was neither. As bad as that day was, it was the beginning of me becoming educated about mental health—which was important not just for me, but for my culture and society as a whole.

A Mental Health Condition is “in God’s Hands”

According to a recent Gallup survey, African-Americans are the most religious culture in the United States. Our deep-rooted religious beliefs go all the way back to slavery, when religion was the one solid foundation we had during those times. Our ancestors then—like we African-Americans now—lived with depression, anxiety, bipolar and PTSD but back then, there weren’t any names for those conditions. Back then, people battling a mental health condition were simply locked up, wandered the streets or even put to death.

With all that my culture had to deal with throughout history, present-day African-Americans feel we don’t need help mentally. All we need to do today is the same our ancestors did, which is: “Pray about it. Give it to God.” But you wouldn’t tell someone with cancer, diabetes or heart problem to just pray about it or give it to God, would you? You’d hopefully say: “You need to see a doctor.” But when it comes to mental health in the African-American community, there is very little compassion or empathy.

Don't get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with praying for recovery from a mental health condition, but we still have to be proactive. We can’t “pray away” a mental health condition. We have to get help. And I am living proof of that.

After receiving treatment, I am living proof that as an African-American female, you can have a mental health condition and thrive! I am proud to be an advocate for NAMI Charlotte and even prouder to be on the board on NAMI NC. Join me in stomping out stigma in all cultures!

 

Fonda Bryant is very active in the community bringing awareness to mental health. She has been a volunteer with NAMI Charlotte for over three years and recently was elected to the state board of NAMI NC. She also volunteers with MHA of Central Carolinas and with the AFSP. She speaks to the rookie classes of CMPD, and is vocal about mental health, whether on television, in the newspaper or radio, her passion for mental health knows no boundaries.

Comments
Tosha
I'm dealing with this very thing right now! I'm so fed up with folks saying "give it to God" "pray harder" or my all time favorite one..."the lord doesn't give u more then u can handle" GIVE ME A BREAK THAT IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE! I have bipolar disorder, anxiety and PTSD and I pray, meditate, practice mindfulness, go to every support group there is and I see a therapist regularly....it pisses me off when people make insensitive remarks or give unsolicited advice on how I must not be a true believer and I must not be praying the correct way! It's insane and just plain wrong! I believed for many years that there had to be something wrong with me because no matter how much I prayed and "gave it Up to God" I was still suffering with mental illness...I actually believed that I was being punished. I'm sorry for the long post but I really needed to vent and after reading ur blog (which by the way is incredible)! I knew this was a place where I wouldn't be judged. Thank u for sharing ur story it definitely hit home.
9/21/2017 12:11:29 PM

Adam Montgomery
When I lived in a spiritual, African-American community, I felt more accepted than ever given I was experiencing bipolar symptoms. My friend was able to explain the "devil came in my life" to be reintegrated after a borderline episode. Religion is a great thing for mental illness. I just wish we could accommodate science and religion to find a solution to this horrible problem.
8/20/2017 9:42:44 PM

JRice
Fonda, Thank you for sharing this story. As a woman of color, who is working my way through depression with the help of professionals and medication, I know there is much more that you could of have said. I have been told by well-meaning people that this functioning shell of a human being is all I will ever be; but I believe that is where pray comes in. The faith to continue to work with my doctors, and counselors; to exercise, to eat better, to try new things and even new medications, if I have to; will come from continued growth in my spiritual relationship. All of us have to remember that faith needs work!
8/7/2017 3:36:37 PM

Gwen Captain
I'm an African American woman with mental health issues. I would love to reach out to you and share some insight into some of the barriers I have endured personally and professionally. I am looking to starting an informal group in my church talking about solutions during critical times. Your article was refreshing. Thank you.
8/7/2017 3:31:40 PM

Janeen Langenheim
Thank you for dispelling the myths of culture and faith about MI, not just for African-Americans.
8/3/2017 9:46:53 PM

Tracy G.
orFonda,
I too grew up in an African American community where mental health was NOT a priority. I understand the struggle that our people had in society that did not lend itself to making mental illness an issue. However, I was sexually abused, lived amidst domestic violence, incarceration of a primary care giver, and alcoholism. My mental health was NEVER discussed. I too now advocate for the de-stigmatization of mental illness in every community. Thank you for your contribution on the topic! If you know ways that I can be more involved, please reach out to me through my email or NAMI Greater Houston!
8/1/2017 1:17:17 PM

LaShawn Faison-Bradley
Thank you for the article. I just completed my dissertation on "The Role of Spirituality with American-American women who experience Complex Trauma." I think this topic needs to be address in our community.
7/31/2017 6:08:55 PM

Matthew Potter
African-Americans are not the only people subjected to this illness, i.e., depression. Whites, also are prone to to depression, and any other form of illness you can think of. By the way, your story was well written and inspirational. I, too, have suffered depression ever since I can remember, and used to use sweets to "medicate myself" and it turned into full-blown schizophrenia. I no longer suffer from symptoms of schizophrenia, but still struggle with long-term depression. Thank You
7/28/2017 5:25:10 PM

Matthew Potter
African-Americans are not the only people affected by mental illness, i.e., depression in this case. Whites suffer from it also, and I am one of them, hoping for answer for the cure someday, just like you did. By the way, your story was well-written, AND inspirational.
7/28/2017 5:14:23 PM

Nancy
I am discovering that it is not only the African-American culture that is holding on to misconceptions about mental health issues, but the majority of all Americans hold false beliefs. I think we are back to the Middle-Ages regarding mental health. Why is it so hard for people to accept that the brain is an organ of the body just like any other organ? To me, prayer is very important because God can lead us in the direction of finding professional help for our son, & then, it takes faith to follow up. Faith without works is not faith.
7/28/2017 8:42:25 AM

Pat DeVries
I am a white mother with an adopted black daughter who has been diagnosed as bi-polar, mood disorder and borderline personality disorder. I have heard from her so many times..." mom, why am I on of the only black kids in the psychiatric hospital"? This is a very helpful article for me. I have printed it off and am giving it to her to read. I have explained it to her this way but, coming from someone who has been there and gone through it is a little more re*****ble in her eyes.
7/27/2017 10:19:09 AM

JD Vashon
True cross-culturally. Many clergy are not trained to handle medical or mental illnesses. Thank you for the reminder.
7/26/2017 6:19:58 PM

Victoria Marie Alonso
Astonishing! With God all things are possible but we have to do the footwork and that includes seeing doctors and taking our medicine. I have a very rare form of Schizophrenia, diagnosed in 2008 by a team of doctors from UCLA. Check out my blog if you want a piece of my story at: https://mypersonalrecoveryfromschizophrenia.wordpress.com/
Pax
Victorai
7/26/2017 6:03:48 PM

Lolita
I too have a passion to eliminate stigma among Our culture. It's inspiring and brings hope to see someone who has been through it give an even deeper perspective on the effects and how it hinders.
7/26/2017 5:13:13 PM

William Tritz
Loved your story! Thanks for sharing!
7/26/2017 4:03:01 PM

Flovea
Great article.Direct and to the point. It is so true
7/26/2017 12:49:52 PM

Barjohn
Fonda you are amazing. Thank you so much for being a VOICE for so many of us. You stand firmly in your beliefs and are bold in your mission to STOMP OUT STIGMA. I stand with you and am so proud to call you my friend. Keep pressing forward my sister.
7/24/2017 1:50:44 PM

Linda Phillips
Fonda, I really appreciate your speaking out so openly and honestly to address how the African-American culture views mental illness. I know your voice is being used to open the eyes and minds of many in our community and state, no matter their racial or cultural roots.
7/24/2017 1:00:02 PM

Patricia Mallory
Thanks so much for shedding light on an otherwise hopeless situation that many people are in great need and understanding what a devastating MI is not only personally but to the families as well. Looking to join up with support groups to help my grown son in his battle with this.,it's destroying him day by day, without any psych Drs to talk to him. Just giving him the meds and expecting him to cope all by himself! They are falling thru the cracks in society, and it seems nobody really cares! But I do and with a Gods Hrlp , we'll find a way out of this nitemare! Again, thank you.
7/22/2017 5:57:17 PM

Robin B. Kemp
We almost lost our daughter this week to suicide. She is recovering medically, but she has a long road ahead. The hard part is just beginning. ..convincing her of just how unwell she really is and making her stay in treatment long enough to make real progress. She doesn't want to let go of the
things and people who are bad for her. How do we convince her to move forward?
7/21/2017 3:04:52 PM

Carlene W.
I was drawn to this blog post because a relative told me that if I believed "enough" that God would heal me he would. Wow. I spent some time feeling abandoned by God and guilty about my failure to "believe enough." I got over it as I distinguished a healthy God relationship and a proactive approach to self care and managing my disorder. Along with reducing stigma, let's be sure people know they didn't do anything to cause MI, God is not punishing them, and we can get well and live productive lives.
7/20/2017 7:31:32 PM

Rodrigo
Thank you for you advocacy and more importantly for sharing your story! It's when we take time to personalize / humanize mental health and remove it from the stigma of shame and negative association that we can move forward in a big way.
7/20/2017 10:21:42 AM

Cheryl
Thanks for this timely reminder, blaming and shaming people for an illness is NEVER a good idea!
7/20/2017 9:00:46 AM

Shayani Turko
I am going through Post partum depression and I am a Christian. And right now God is walking with me through recovery which He is bringing through medication and psychiatric help. Yes and people with mental health issues can thrive! Thanks for writing this, it's helping me continue to blog about y journey as well - www.freshwineskins.ca
7/20/2017 12:13:21 AM

Carol Ward
Hi. I wish I had met you when we still lived in Charlotte😀 You are amazing! So glad you got help - you have a great story, perspective, and very positive outlook. I love that you are so involved in eliminating stigma; it is a thing of the past and hinders people from going forward and making progress. Best to you.
7/19/2017 11:27:13 PM

Andrea
Simply, thank you!!!
7/19/2017 7:46:02 PM

Beth
Fonda- Thank you SO much for your article. You are an inspiration. While I am not a member of a minority, we do have an adult child who has a brain disorder and zero insight to her illness. We've watched her life fall apart over the last two years, losing her home, her children, and a thriving business, as well as many friends and family members. It gives me hope to hear your story and to see someone standing up to the myths that are perpetuated about mental health issues. I'm so grateful you've found what you need and are standing up against the stigma society places on people who face these challenges. Thank you for sharing.
7/19/2017 7:28:53 PM

Gwendolyn
Great read. Very proud of the work you are doing to save lives, Fonda!
7/19/2017 1:47:10 PM

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