Mental Health, Race

Outside the House

Director: Darnell Lamont Walker

Released: 2017

View on: Outside the House website

I first learned about Outside the House when I came across an article about the documentary on social media. I’m really glad I learned about it – this is an important documentary that uses storytelling, as opposed to just spewing a litany of statistics to talk about mental health and mental illness among black and African American individuals. Don’t get me wrong, statistics are important, but so is storytelling (no worries if you want some stats – check out Mental Health America’s website). The fact that Outside the House relies so heavily on storytelling makes it powerful, and will hopefully help to reduce mental health stigma.

When thinking about mental health in the African American community, it is important to remember our society’s racist history and present. Beginning with slavery, African Americans had their freedoms taken away and were expected to work hard labor and other jobs for no pay and with no hope for anything else. That causes a huge amount of stress and anxiety, and creates a mistrust in the system, because the system has often not worked in favor of the African American community. The history of mental health in the African American community also furthers the idea of suppressing mental health concerns.

“There is a sense of pride in being resilient because of slavery. Black people survived then because we were quiet at times. We didn’t even share our stories of pain with each other out of love. That strategy was necessary at that time.” – Franchesca Griffin

Today, racism still permeates society. For example, one person interviewed talked about her heart racing every time a police car stopped behind her car at a red light – that kind of everyday stress adds up.

Among the women interviewed, and some of the men, domestic and sexual violence was an extremely common theme – a lot of these individuals could pinpoint the roots of their mental health issues back to these incidents. This is universal across all communities – domestic and sexual violence can affect anyone regardless of race, and regardless of the race of the survivor, it is common for these experiences to result in depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other serious issues.

Another issue that came up quite often was that of religion. Among many religious communities, it can be common for people to think that any mental health issues they are experiencing should be dealt with through their religious leader, even if the religious leader has no mental health training. It can also be common for people in religious communities to believe that if they pray hard enough their mental health issues will go away. One person interviewed in the film had a great way to think about this – she said that God had provided professional help for people who need it, so why not take advantage of it?

Beyond a mistrust of the system, and cultural and historic trauma, several issues of access to mental health care exist for black and African American individuals. Most research on mental illness doesn’t include many black and African American individuals, meaning that the science behind treatment and medication literally doesn’t account for these communities. There is a mental health provider shortage in general, but it is especially pronounced for black and African American people. Very few psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers are black or African American. Although there is no requirement that that a mental health provider be of the same race as the patient, for some people it is easier to open up to a person who understands the racial reality that surrounds them. And, a lack of resources exists to get the help that is available – lack of health insurance; providers choosing to operate their practices in predominately white neighborhoods; an inability to take the time to see a professional because of work or child care obligations. The barriers are numerous.

So what can you do? First and foremost, it is important for all of us to understand that everyone experiences mental health ups and downs, and more people than we would think experience mental illness. If you have experienced a mental health issue or mental illness, you are not alone. If you feel comfortable telling your story to others, it can be very helpful in ending the stigma. However, it is your story and you are the best judge of when, and if, you should share that story with others.

There are several organizations that work to end the stigma. One in particular was featured in Outside the House: Black Girls Smile. Black Girls Smile works to ensure that all young African American females receive the resources and support necessary to lead mentally healthy lives. Check out their social media campaign using the hashtag #togetherwesmile.

Another group I like is End the Stigma. This is run by an individual who has experienced depression and anxiety, and who provides education, resources, and discussion about mental health.

If you have questions about mental health issues, either for yourself or someone you care about, please check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline. If you are in need of assistance, please call 911 and ask to talk to someone trained in crisis intervention. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also a great resource.

And finally, I encourage everyone to sign up for a Mental Health First Aid course. I took a course about a year ago and found it extremely helpful. I learned about how to best interact with people exhibiting certain symptoms. For example, if a person is experiencing a panic attack, get on their level, stay calm, ask if you can get them a glass of water, don’t press them to tell you what triggered the attack because often there isn’t an obvious trigger (or any at all). If we all took Mental Health First Aid, I think our society would be much better at interacting with each other!