Campus Life / Health

Counseling Center Open House fights stigma surrounding mental health

by Autumn Basara

The Norfolk State University Counseling Center will be hosting an open house event at 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Student Service Building, room 312, on Friday, Sept. 20. The event encourages reducing the stigma around mental health.

Mental health is a huge issue that many people, especially in the African American community tend to stray away from. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 10-20% more likely to experience psychological problems than their Caucasian American counterparts. Mental illness is often tossed aside in the African American community as just experiencing an ‘off day’ or having ‘the blues.’ While those could be valid excuses, shouldn’t you take care of your mind the same way you take care of your body during a cold, virus, or fever? So, why is mental illness such a stigma in the African American community?

African Americans historically have been berated for showing any signs of mental illness during slavery. This behavior was a form of “acting out.” They would be beaten and abused for acting “crazy.” This idea continued through subsequent generations, leaving a lot of African Americans to believe that mental illness is a sign of weakness.

The lack of representation and misdiagnoses are another reason, as only 3.5% of the American Psychiatric Association and 1.5% of the American Psychological Association are African American. With the lack of diversity in this field, many African Americans feel that the typical psychologist does not represent them, nor understand their struggles.

African Americans are also more likely to receive an inaccurate diagnosis. Many African American men are misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, when they are experiencing symptoms of mood disorders or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a.k.a. PTSD, as reported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several methods to fighting the stigma against mental health. One of them is to receive treatment. Receiving treatment can help relieve the symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life. Joining a support group is another step to ending the stigma. Joining a support group can help educate you and the people around you about mental illness. By getting educated on mental health issues, you can help start informing people on how to possibly deal with their mental illness or help them notice family and friends that may be experiencing symptoms of mental illness. This opens a conversation about mental illness to your social circle and further removes the barriers to getting help.

Starting the conversation about mental health is how we can end the stigma in our community. Dr. Vanessa Caldwell Jenkins, director of the Counseling Center at Norfolk State University, says it best, “You don’t want to wait till it’s too late. [You] want to address [mental illness] as soon as possible.”

The Counseling Center Open House is to open the conversation about mental health and to end the stigma around it in the African American starting with educating the students at Norfolk State University. The Counseling Center offers many services. They provide safe places to unwind and relax, such as a wellness room and a massage chair. The Counseling Center also offers group therapy sessions and individual therapy sessions. All these services are, of course, free and confidential.

End the stigma by joining the conversation.