- The definition of mental health.
- Statistics for the minority population and mental health.
- The importance of good mental health.
- What are daily stressors and how to cope?
In the current state of affairs of this nation, we are not only dealing with fear, uncertainty, but unanswered questions. This place of uncertainty and fear is a state that can impact one’s mental health and condition of health. We find ourselves in the middle of an increasing pandemic, chaos, trauma, racial injustice, and unrest, as well as a human catastrophe which is causing increased levels of anxiety and depression.
Here we discuss mental health and how it can be defined as a person’s condition with regards to their overall well-being. We sometimes hear non-clinical persons speak of mental health and mental illness as the same. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, mental health and mental illness are not the same things; but they are also not mutually exclusive. If someone would ask you as a person to explain the difference between the two, we can respond that everyone has some level of mental health all of the time, just like physical health and mental health can exist exclusively without being mentally ill.
One might ask what can impact the mental health of an individual and the answer aligns with such things as trauma, stress, sleep problems, and eating problems can all affect one’s mental health. You may not be able to prevent a mental health condition, but you can take steps to protect and support your mental health throughout life.
When considering some of the statistics on mental illness it was found that in 2015 there were an estimated 43.4 million adults (1 in 5 Americans) aged 18 or older with a mental illness during the past year. Additionally, there were an estimated 9.8 million adults (1 in 25 Americans) aged 18 or older with a serious mental illness. A serious mental illness is defined as individuals experiencing within the past year a mental illness or disorder with a severe functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. As we consider the mental illness it is important to share that approximately 20% or 1 in 5 children have experienced a serious mental disorder, 50% of all chronic mental illnesses begin by age 14 and 75% by the age of 24 (CDC, 2018; APA, 2017).
Having good mental health means that a person can cope with daily stressors (loss of a job, illness of a family member, taking on a new position, lack of funds to pay bills, uncertainty about life’s events, hard time sleeping at night, interpersonal conflict, not enough time, to many things to do, troubling thoughts about the future, too many interruptions, misplacing or losing things, concerns about getting ahead, too many responsibilities, etc.) and still be able to accomplish personal goals consistently in their daily living. The definition states that a person who lives with a mental illness is defined as a condition where there is a mood (affective) or thought (schizophrenia, psychotic) disorder where that person cannot handle the ordinary demands in life. Others have defined it as a condition where one’s behavior is so insidious it results in a person being hospitalized (Chaplin, 2001; DSM-5, 2013). We can find alternatives to dealing with and coping with stressors by reading, exercising, doing yoga, doing relaxation techniques, etc. When we allow those daily stressors to take over without finding ways to cope, we tend to fall into a state of depression, we experience Adjustment Disorders, and we can also suffer from anxiety and irritability.
When we consider the mental health in the African American population it is apparent that the poverty level affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those living above the poverty level, are twice as likely to report psychological distress. Suicide was the second leading cause of death in 2017 ages 15 to 24 among African Americans. When compared to African American women the death date for African American males was four times greater. Let us also understand that the overall suicide rate for African Americans is 60% lower than that of the Non-Hispanic Caucasian population. It has been noted that African American females in grades 9-12 were 70% more likely to attempt suicide in 2017, as compared to non-Hispanic Caucasian females of the same age. The troubling statistics when considering minority mental health, the report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that between 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233%, as compared to 120% of non-Hispanic Caucasians (APA, 2017).
We hope to help clear up diagnostic impressions that are inaccurate nomenclature (forming words in a particular field of study) that the “court of public opinion” sometimes utilizes at times to describe a mental condition or disorder that will not be seen or defined in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition described as good mental health or a poor mental illness. Terms such as “crazy”, “stupid”, “touched”, “far out there,” are not operationally defined psychological concepts and should not be used to describe mental illness. “Afflicted by mental illness”, “suffers from mental illness” or “is a victim of mental illness” should not enter into one’s vocabulary. “Living with a mental illness” is appropriate. “Psycho”, “spaz”, “short-sensed”, and “elevator does not go to the top floor” should not be used (DSM-5, 2013).
Finally, to remain in good mental health just as in good physical health, it is important to check on your mental health. If we feel pain, we seek out a physician, if your thinking or some difference in mood changes for a period of time, if unable to sleep through the night more than three times a week, easily agitated or irritated, having nightmares, experiencing somnambulism (Difficulty sleeping), and living with sleep apnea, it is necessary to seek professional help. Minorities find themselves struggling to seek professional assistance whether lack of insurance, lack of funds or lack of trust. It is evidenced that minorities are just as likely as non-minorities to experience mental health disorders, yet far less likely to receive treatment. The rates of depression are lower in the African American populace (24.6%) and Hispanics (19.6%) than in Caucasian (34.7%); however, the rate of requesting treatment is much less and the disability as a result of the mental illness shows higher rates. There are data that showed in 2015 48% of Caucasian adults with a diagnosis of mental illness received treatment as compared to 37% of African Americans and Hispanics and only 22% of Asians or Pacific Islanders with the same or similar diagnosis (CDC, 2018; Bell, et.al 2015).
It is the recommendation of this author that African Americans and minorities must understand the importance of seeking assistance for their mental illness or condition and not think it is taboo to do so. There must be training and education within the African American and Minority communities discussing the impact of being mentally healthy and identifying the impact of daily stressors when they are left idle without any professional assistance.
Dr. Joshua Murfee, Jr.
Chief Operations Officer
Chaplin, J. P., (2001). Dictionary of Psychology. A Laurel Book.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.