Black mental health focus of Detroit panel

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Dr. Karlin J. Tichenor of Karlin J. & Associates speaks to the crowd at Detroit PAL June 1, 2019 talking on the importance of removing the social stigma around black men and mental health.

Detroit — Josh Landon said it was time to have a "kitchen table conversation" with a community that keeps suppressing the topic of mental health. 

Landon, a Fox 2 News anchor, moderated a panel Saturday in partnership with the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and Detroit PAL. It was part of the Black Male Media Project, a nationwide initiative to help change the narrative and perceptions presented of black men in the news, media and society. 

"It's time for us to have a conversation that's been delayed and long overdue," Landon said. "I want to have a kitchen table conversation on the unaddressed mental health awareness in our community. Let's remove the social stigma and share positive reflections."

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 18.6% of African Americans report living with a mental health condition but only 16.9% report using mental health treatment.

Vickie Thomas, NABJ membership manager, said while covering the black community as a reporter for WWJ she had to navigate how to portray black men with mental health issues. 

The forum discussed the long-term effects of untreated mental illnesses, the effects on single-parent households and the suppression of emotions in young black men and boys in the community.

"Of the times you turn on the 6 (o'clock) news, and see there's a black suspect wanted for a crime, many of them have mental health issues that they haven't sought help or have addressed," Thomas said. "If people were honest with themselves and gave the community the resourced they need, it wouldn't be as frowned upon in our community while being praised in others."

Panelists included Kevin Fischer, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Michigan; Robert Jamerson, interim CEO of Detroit PAL; Dr. Curtis Long, mental health director of the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility, Karlin J. Tichenor of Karlin J. & Associates; and Rev. L.T. Willis, behavior specialist and pastor of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church.

Long shared a story of his father, a veteran of WWII. His father rarely showed emotion and explained how the environment children are exposed to can affect  them all their lives.

When his doctor referred him to a therapist, Long dismissed it, deciding he didn't want to talk to someone. 

"My wife said, 'What do you have to talk about to a therapist that you can't talk to me about?'... nothing that would have involved her, but I didn't want her to judge my character," he said.

Long said there's a toxic masculinity issue in the black community where they are told not to show emotion.

"It's killing us whether by suicide or homicide and if not, in other forms like obesity, cardiac issues, diabetes. We ignore our healthcare and the long terms effects kill us," he said.

"It's one of the things we need to get past because (therapy) is an opportunity to get all this stuff off our chest," he said. "I felt renewed after my therapy sessions and in a way, I think we are cheating ourselves out of that relief."

Jamerson said working with children through PAL has given him insight on the long-term effects of untreated mental illness among Detroit's black men. 

"Trauma that goes untreated is a slow burn," he said. "Communication is key and education is critical to becoming successful. We need to improve not just our awareness of the issue, but access to help."

Fischer, a director in mental health, agreed, saying it all starts with teaching boys they  can show emotion.

"... And sharing those stories with each other and in the media are most powerful, because then we can lift this social stigma on staying quiet," he said. "Men can fall into depression, anxiety, become suicidal and homicidal without treatment. We need to find a better way."

Dawud Newberry of Detroit said he faced a lot of issues last year after he divorced his wife of 25 years.

"Mentally, I was weak even though I was trying to be strong," said Newberry, who was in the audience. "I lost a lot because of how I reacted and didn't seek help. I wasn't receptive to it and truly wish I was. Listening to the panel, I learned I haven't been around a lot of positive people and that affected my life. So, I'm gonna try to put myself in a better environment."

For  information on support, resources and how mental health conditions affect the African American community, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health Awareness.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_