“This is a deterrent,” said Dr. Kali D. Cyrus, a psychiatrist at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC, and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. Talking about your family’s business with a white person – much less an outsider – is often discouraged in the black community, added Dr. Cyrus, which is black.
Most of the mental health care for children takes place in public schools through school psychologists or counselors. This is especially true in low-income districts where other resources are scarce. But these professionals are also in short supply.
Even when psychiatric professionals are available, research has shown that black adolescents’ depression often remains untreated due to negative perceptions of services and providers or shame about experiencing depressive symptoms.
“Black families typically do not have the reading skills to discuss ‘feelings’ with each other,” said Dr. Cyrus in an email. “There’s also the strong value of ‘keeping your business off the streets’.”
Ever since Kathy Williams’ teenage son Torian Graves took her life in 1996, she has been teaching people in her hometown, Durham, NC, about the symptoms she missed and the importance of mental health care. But the stigma is still strong, she said. Some parents are afraid of being convicted and do not trust therapists. Sometimes they say, “Just ask for it. It will go away.”
Yes, she said, prayer is good. But treating mental illness requires more than that.
After her son died, she found a poem in his room that he had written as a class assignment.
Part of me is Carolina Blue,
Full of flavor and excitement,
Like a wild roller coaster
On the loose.
But at times,
I’m evil, dark, lonely,
Black, angry at the world,
Like a lost dog in the desert,
But they are both true,
And they’re both me.