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

By Fonda Bryant | Mar. 30, 2018

 

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.

 

Note: An earlier version of this blog appeared on NAMI.org in July 2017.

Comments
Lenore Rutti
We need both the church and the medical community! We have to work together. NAMI Greater Cleveland and the Old Stone Church have partnered.....providing education, awareness and compassion!
7/2/2018 10:40:18 AM

Lisa
I am 45 years old and I have been dealing with depression /anxiety for over 20 years . I have taken all kinds of prescription medications and nothing seems to work . I am at a point in my life where nothing matters anymore. I have no Joy , no Peace , nothing . Life is challenging to me on a daily basis . I cry all the time and I just want it to STOP!
Why do I have this horrible disease that no one seems to know how to fix? I pray and I ask God why . I know we should never question God . But I don't know where or what to do anymore . Life to me is HORRIBLE! I just want help . Is that too much to ask ?
6/29/2018 11:00:23 AM

Kimberly Renee Lampkin
It's a struggle no matter how much i pray god will take these ugly voices away it gets me angry the more i hear it speaking lies i hate what I'm going through i feel like god isn't going to answer me this is a spiritual emergency i attempted suicide too many times my family doesn't understand how life threatening this is to have your freedom and peace stolen by some unknown thing with a voice trying to force you to kill yourself when I'm not thinking about it none of these thoughts belong the medication doesn't work
6/26/2018 10:49:04 PM

jellyfish
Here's some hope for those who have been slapped with a mental illness label. You are in good company. When the world shuns you, you are closer to God than any pasted or religious person. ;-)

DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS: These may manifest by way of conversion disorder or a dissociative condition such as a trance-like state or dissociative identity disorder (DID, ie split personality like Sybil). The depictions of our subjects (Jesus, Abraham, Moses and Paul) indicate that they may have either found their own experiences not entirely believable to themselves, understood that their experiences would be hard for others to believe, or that they were perceived by their contemporaries as being mad. Mark 3: 21 confirms an occasion where Jesus’ friends and family viewed him as mad or “beside himself.” It is intrinsic to his narrative that the people of his hometown (Mark 6:1– 6) and the religious authorities of the day also did not accept his message. Paul’s contemporary Festus, the local Roman governor of Judea, in Acts 26:24 exclaimed that Paul appeared “mad” or not sane. These events are closest in time to our subjects and might suggest psychotic type thought processes. Those who deviate excessively from the societal norms do not relate to the populace, are not understood, become socially isolated and stigmatized, and may be identified as not sane."
6/26/2018 9:43:32 PM

Janie Daniel
Janie

Thank you Fonda, your blog I just so happen to find is amazing. I love how your were transparent in sharing your own story. This blog is informative, inspiring, education. You did justice on mental illness issues, help take away the stigma surrounding it. I don't know no one who's not touched in some way on this subject. If we don't talk about it we'll never find healing. I believe God used you to enlighten us. Thank so much!

God bless you
6/22/2018 9:19:41 PM

Georgie Beaver
Thank you Fonda for your comments. I am a long-term sufferer with mental illness in the form of OCD and depression. It gets worse as I grow older. I have prayed to God many times to please heal me but so far, I have not experienced healing. It is hard to understand God's ways when you have mental illness that is on-going. I hang on to the scriptures in Revelation chapter 21 - God promises to wipe away all of our tears and there will be no more sorrow or crying or pain. That includes no more mental illness.
6/19/2018 12:04:38 PM

christopher booker
i believe we have to fully trust GOD the word of God is a healer and i;t can heal any thing because of the blood of Jesus i have a family member who have been diagnosis with mental illness she has been hospitalized for these 4 years i like to be a help to those families like me whos family member suffering from this illness
6/15/2018 12:11:51 PM

Kimberly lampkin
I hate it i hate hearing voices i wish this illness did not exist it has separated me from family it caused me to nearly commit suicide i just wish god would silence this demonic lying voice
5/26/2018 6:04:53 PM

RG
I read information that stated the medical field needs to stop trying to do the churches job and the church needs to stop trying to do the doctors job. Instead of admitting limited or no knowledge and discomfort when approached about bipolar so many are quick to give out wrong or misleading hurtful responses. The church and the medical field need to find a way to bridge the gap of communication and information. We need to be open and honest with love and encouragement in the churches. There are many grey areas involved and not just black and white.
I am a Christian woman, African American with bipolar II. I have experienced some of the same problems in and out of church. When the church is supposed to be a haven it is surprising to get a very cold shoulder from leadership.

Many blessings
5/23/2018 10:39:59 PM

ila sutton
Excellent article it spoke to what I have experienced personally as I have learned to live with mental diagnosis for family members. Fortunately, I am continuing to educate myself and family on the realities of mental illness not the myths or perceptions. I really appreciated the insight provided in this particular blog..thank you. healing begins with sharing!
5/18/2018 11:25:11 AM

Joe
When I tried to meekly explain my schizo-affective and bipolar disorders to my minister - I felt immediately 'negatively judged' by my minister due to my mental illnesses. He even (actually) told me he thought I had "grieved the Holy Spirit." His greetings turned into cold "Hello Joe" remarks.

I soon had suicidal thoughts and guilt thoughts.

My mental illness began long before I was officially diagnosed, and becoming a Christian later on die not take the illness(es) away.

Now I arrive for worship services late, take the Lord's supper and contribute, and then leave early to avoid the ministers' 'cold greetings.'

I hope my minister can present himself before God in the final judgment and plead 'innocent' in his treatment of me and my suicide if/when it happens.

Regards

P.S. - My younger sister who has also been diagnosed as "bipolar," after hearing from me my ministers' remarks - told me in effect to stay as far away from him as possible, which I now do.

Regards to all
5/9/2018 8:11:06 PM

Melodye Ray
I wish every pastor in America would read and understand this essay. So much neefleas suffering could be avoided.
4/18/2018 9:08:24 AM

Louis
I'm not saying it was the sole purpose of the article, but this is creating a divide between Christians and non-Christians as illustrated in the comments.

As a Christian, I can tell you that we aren't taught to ignore medical doctors or psychologists. However, we rely on God to completely heal us by any means necessary. He is our healer. That can take place by way of a miracle, through medical advancements, and solid counseling. Healing can come in any way.
4/5/2018 9:43:15 AM

Cherish
All I know is I didn't have any mental illness until I prayed to someone and got an answer. That can cause your mind to play tricks on you. And for someone who really relys on those hallucinations and delusions as a way to live your life then you are suffering from the way of the world religious sickness and it can cause psychotic behavior and schizophrenia. Check yourself before you wreck yourself because its not of reality.
4/4/2018 11:34:51 AM

Lizanne Corbit
Thank you for this beautiful read. I think this is such an important conversation to be having. This kind of thought process is not an isolated one, and unfortunately, it can be very damaging. It can also lead to the thought pattern of thinking something is inherently wrong and needs to be solved or fixed. Mental health conditions should not be seen as problems to be fixed, and certainly not prayed away, but this thinking is out there and conversations like these can help to shed light, awareness, and understanding.
4/2/2018 8:53:49 PM

Sharon
Amen to everything you said sister! Religion and religious people see mental illness as a spiritual thing. For so long I went untreated and traumatized because I thought all I had to do was pray or fast or renew my mind with scripture. I believe God heals everyone in different ways and if you can be healed of a mental illness miraculously then kudos to you! But the majority of people I know are allowing God to heal them through treatment, meds, doctors, and self-care. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. I suffered in silence as a teenager. I wasn't diagnosed until I was 42. After I got on meds, learned coping skills, and started practicing self-care and compassion towards myself I am finally living. What put me in the hospital was a "spiritual fasting" that was almost the death of me. I do have faith in God and I also have faith in the tools He has given me to be well and live a good life. Most religious people are very closed minded about mental illness. There are some who are understanding if they have experienced. So I have learned to just share my story regardless because I know there are people struggling out there that I can help. Thanks for sharing yours!
3/30/2018 8:05:51 PM

Michael Manuel
I believe the Lord can he a person from mental illness through fasting and prayer,supernatur healing a real miracle from above is the best option that is attainable to all who call on Him.
3/24/2018 10:09:15 PM

Gay Brickhouse
I want to know how to start a support group. I've lost family, friends, and a relationship to this dreadful disease.
1/29/2018 1:18:43 PM

LoveWins
Hey, I love this post. Mental illness and depression is all around, not just in the african american community. I'm a young black women who suffered as well. Praying is a huge part of the healing process. I didn't even know how important praying really was until I just humbled myself and started to do it. After constant suicide dreams, depression ect. I by faith signed myself up for therapy, which helped me with my self esteemed and to grow a voice for "MySelf" instead of others. But during therapy after a suicide dream , I prayed to God to help me with what whatever this was going on in my head. There was no church around, no pastor, no preacher in my room at the time when God showed me vision of almost everything I did in life. I was so shocked, I hopped up out of my bed and began to apologize for those things He showed me. Now this experience is what really made me seek God for healing and to know Him. With the help of my therapist who I believe God placed in my life to help me. God then went ahead of me and made a way for me to receive healing. During my process, I went to visit a church after continuously praying.. God spoke through this women to me concerning the things I was going through and praying about. She told me exactly what I really had been seeking from God. She told me that God was going to literally touch my mind and renew it. And that he was going to take away the nightmares and depression I was feeling. I tell NO LIE. God had really touched my mind and revealed himself to me in a mighty way. One morning, I woke up and I realized I did not have a nightmare or the feelings of depression. Inside of me was this heavy feeling of peace, love and JOY. I touched my mind because I didn't have any thoughts inside of my head! Everything was so PEACEFUL. This is so amazing. The healing came unexpectedly, I fell done to my knees and worshiped the True Living God. I'm set free from depression and mental illness. You guys we will go through in this life until we die. Its apart of life. But having God makes it all better! My life is far from perfect, but I know one thing NO ONE can ever take away what I know God did for me. He can do it for anyone. I encourage you all to not go by what men says about "Religion, and God. Get alone when no one is around and tell him all about what your going through. Don't put a time limit on God as to when he will heal you. God Bless!
1/23/2018 11:39:30 AM

Patty
Fonda, Thank you for your well written blog! I personally am working hard to try to help with erasing the stigma of mental illness. My son was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 27. At first, at age 17, it seemed like he was just depressed. We have prayed and prayed for God to heal him. Since his diagnosis he has been diligent to take his meds and is now able to hold down a part time music teaching job. He was able to start a support group for others suffering from mental illness as well as working. He's doing great and if you met him, you probably wouldn't even know he had this condition. Maybe this is how the Lord has answered our continued prayers for him!!
My husband and I teach the Family to Family Class now because it helped us so much when we took it. I highly recommend that class!!
I wish you well and will continue to fight for fulfilling lives for those with M.I.
1/22/2018 5:36:55 PM

John Cunningham
Prayer is a narcissistic control mental disorder. As is all parts of religions.
The god, messiah complex.
They get their information from book with no printed authors. No original text. No appendix or providence listing sources.
Caring, loving humans and human rights should always be over any and all gods, religions, religious beliefs or rights.
1/9/2018 7:46:19 AM

Prabhjot
Please I request to preister of the church for pray me because I have depresion.so many medicine used but not affect this medicine.my career is not set .so pray me for God.
12/5/2017 10:45:40 AM

Cece
Hello
12/1/2017 1:38:18 AM

Mary Carver
Loved this article!! I am not a minority but I am a Christian and have been told way too often to just have more faith or "think positive"! Have to fight tooth and nail to get real medication! What a hell mental illness can be at times.
11/21/2017 12:08:53 PM

Francisca T. Rimando
I need to know more about mental health is it inborn or made up thanks.
10/19/2017 3:23:11 AM

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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