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MAHONING VALLEY Healing minds among blacks



Published: Sun, February 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Many blacks do not trust the system to treat their mental illness, experts say.

By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Veral Adair is a well-educated, adjusted 39-year-old black man who dedicates his time to helping those with mental illnesses.

Adair has faced his own challenges with mental illness -- something he says many black Americans, especially black men, have a harder time dealing with than other groups of people.

Adair was barely through high school when he was diagnosed with a serious mental illness. He got the needed treatment and was able to complete his education, obtaining several college degrees, and entered the work force.

Adair said a large amount of family support, willingness to seek treatment, and an eventual understanding of his condition made his situation easier to accept -- but, he added, not all blacks have those same benefits.

Complications: Many blacks, he said, face other social issues such as poverty, poor education, a lack of health insurance, and social isolation that make dealing with mental illness more difficult.

Dr. William Blythe Robinson of Daystar Counseling Services said, "We have been counseling for more than a quarter of a century and have always found it difficult to connect to the black community because of their general distrust for the system."

Because of the distrust, blacks more often worry about general concerns such as whether they will be stigmatized for seeking treatment and who will have access to their treatment records, Robinson said.

Those factors keep many blacks out of doctors' and counselors' offices, but Robinson said it goes even further than that.

Robinson said blacks have historically learned to handle most problems from within, looking only to family and the church for help. Admitting there may be a mental illness and looking for professional treatment, he said, can be seen as a sign of weakness -- particularly for men.

"I believe a large part of this is just cultural. From the days of slavery on, blacks have had to take care of themselves and didn't have anybody else to look to," Robinson said. "They were more accustomed to being exploited than helped."

Consequences: Robinson and Dr. Daniel Guy of Parkview Counseling Center say that in many cases of mental illness, black men resort to alcohol as a means of self-support, but that only exacerbates any existing condition.

Guy said most blacks, especially men, are not "psychologically minded," meaning they do not take into account the psychological effect on the way one behaves and thinks. Those individuals, therefore, "will not take a look inside at what may be the source of his or her outside problems," Guy said.

Guy said there is some relation between untreated mental illnesses and the high unemployment rate among black males. He said some black men may be battling with untreated social disorders that make it hard for them to get along with co-workers and others.

"You can have a guy with an antisocial personality or other character disorder, and that person is not employable," he said. "A lot of these guys do not function well and a lot do not finish high school, and that is virtually suicide for anybody who plans to achieve any level of success."

Solutions: Guy said what is needed are more strong families with good male role models who would encourage young men who may face psychological trouble brought on by social conditions to seek treatment.

Adair said more blacks need to enter the fields of psychiatry, social work and counseling.

Robinson said Daystar has tried that approach.

He said a black therapist was hired at Daystar specifically to address the problem of blacks' reluctance to seek therapy. The therapist did make some headway, but not nearly enough, Robinson said.

Adair and Robinson agree that churches in black communities, because of their historical leadership roles, need to serve as a mediator in getting help to those who may have mental-health issues.

Still, Robinson said, people respond to results. There need to be more examples of successful mental treatment like Adair in the black community.

"We need more black people to stand up and say, 'I went for counseling, and I got some help.' You need a successful product. You need to break that stigma," Robinson said.

jgoodwin@vindy.com




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