February 25, 2016

By Luna Greenstein

The African American community experiences mental health conditions at comparable rates to the general population, but receives significantly less treatment. One of the reasons is because of the stigma and lack of acceptance that permeates within the community. In order to improve this problem, NAMI’s program Sharing Hope, reaches out to African American communities to encourage mental health education and reduce stigma on mental illness.

Recently, the local ABC channel in Chicago aired a story about this issue. Tiffany Brown Walker is an African American woman who bravely shares her story living with bipolar disorder regularly to members of the local faith community. It is her goal to start the conversation about mental health, both increasing awareness and breaking stigma. “There’s not very many faces of color for people living with mental illness, either for themselves or their family members, so sharing my story is very important,” she says in the ABC video.

Tiffany goes to different churches to present Bridges of Hope, a program specifically designed for reaching out to faith communities. Tiffany emphasizes the importance of combining both faith and treatment when it comes to recovery. “I prayed for God to take it away long before I realized that this was a medical issue,” she adds. “That’s why I start with my faith and end it with the medical. They have to be together. You can’t pray it away.”

Another story from NBC Channel 6 in Illinois addresses this important topic while mentioning the Sharing Hope program. Married couple Ricky and Jacqueline McCoy have been sharing their story of Ricky’s experience with a duel diagnoses and time spent incarcerated with little treatment and psychiatric care.

The reason that the McCoys’ decided to start presenting their story through Sharing Hope is because for them, that is how the African American community finds solutions to problems. “Historically in the African-American community, we solve things as a community,” says Jacqueline in the NBC video. “Sort of through the church and we bring our issues to our church leaders and try to solve them within our family unit.”

Another big part of the African American community other than the church has also been getting involved with mental health and with NAMI is the nation’s oldest African American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. AKA chapter president, Vickie Schwass, explains that the reason AKA partnered with NAMI is to help gain access to education and resources for members of the community. “You know, it could happen to me, another chapter member, a family member of a chapter member, and so we want to be educated as well.”

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