The Other Health Debate/Discussion

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2009 at 8:15 am

I recently watched the Soloist starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. When it was released in early spring, the movie was not a huge success as many projected. The film is based on the real life events as recorded in a book written by Downey’s character, Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. The film follows the unique and winding path of an endearing friendship between Lopez and Nathaniel Anthony Ayers (Foxx’s character). Ayers, who was homeless, turned out had attended Juilliard years earlier as a cellist. By the time Lopez encounters Ayers, Ayers learned to play the violin, but not only was he homeless, but also suffering from schizophrenia. I thought the film to be a thought provoking one; one in which had me questioning the availability of mental health services for the homeless; one in which I questioned the availability of mental health services for African Americans; one in which I questioned whether there’s a stigma associated with African Americans seeking mental health services.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 1 and 4 African Americans do not have health insurance. Additionally, about one third of African Americans who suffer from mental illnesses or disorders receive treatment. Also, African Americans comprise some 12 percent of the general population, but disproportionately represent populations that are most likely to be affected by mental health illness such as the homeless or the incarcerated. African Americans comprise an estimated 40 percent of the homeless population. African Americans approximately comprise 50 percent of those incarcerated in state or federal correctional facilities.

In a panel interview with NPR in March 2008, Annelle Primm, Director of Minority and National Affairs of the American Psychiatric Association, believes “…from a cultural standpoint, the fact that religion and spirituality are so central in the African-American community, people may believe that their mental health issues may represent a failure of faith. They may turn to their clergyperson for help and may not realize that they need to get professional help from a mental health professional.” In that same interview, panelist Dr. William Lawson of Howard University, summed it up by saying that many within the African American community simply do not talk about mental health issues and often “mask feelings of depression…” Often times the mental health component in the health debate and discussion gets overlooked; yet community organizations and other nonprofits as well as clergy members are central in educating and providing much needed services to those who are just outside of the mainstream.


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