African American college students should applaud the vocal example of Bebe Moore Campbell. In an age where rap stars and NBA athletes are the most celebrated heroes, it is with good cause that we lift up a woman whose advocacy was intended to help so many.
Prior to her untimely death in 2006, the bestselling author penned nine books and served as a remarkable ambassador for mental health awareness.
In 2008 the US House of Representatives proclaimed July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.
A strong base of Campbell’s readers included women and college students who helped her rise to literary fame by indulging in Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine and The 72 Hour Hold which chronicled the life of a mother of seven trying to cope with her daughter’s bipolar episodes. Readers identified with crisis themes and the ease by which Moore gave life to misunderstood complexities, but for African Americans, mental illness is a subject that too many families don’t want to broach.
Mental illness is fodder for comics (crazy followed by any profane word) and media sensationalized with the stellar acting of Alfre Woodard. Seemingly, any African American actor can get a paying gig as the “Black man with social and mental affect.” We are televised as the homeless, knee-to-chest huddled and murmuring woman, or the disturbed man down the street neighborhood kids are warned to stay away from.
Addressing Anxiety, Depression, and Suicide at HBCU’s
Depression and other mental illness disease exists on HBCU campuses and is personified through collegiate professors, bookstore clerks, Phi Beta Kappa scholars, Black Greeks and their internal challenges, athletes, and the ever anxious Financial Aid staff.
The pressures for college students has never been greater, and for the African American student, it is compounded by mounting costs. An increasing number of students at HBCU’s are pursuing degrees as independent, young adults and/or hail from single parent households. Degree seeking or not, money is an issue.
The black student’s lofty goals and family woes travel to college campuses and are unwittingly unpacked and subconsciously shelved in dorm rooms next to test anxiety, peer pressure, and the overwhelming desire to socially fit in. Some champion the emotional gruel and proceed without crisis towards the graduation finish line, but an unprecedented number of others succumb by dropping out or attempting suicide; either scenario breeds yet another haunting statistic.
African American Mental Health (Fact Sheet)
Mental illness as a social stigma is a concept students become familiar with prior to joining collegiate populations, so a cultural and societal impact has already made an indelible impression prior to their trek to Albany, Spelman, or Fisk college campuses.
Campus of Albany State University
Even the nerdiest, black college student knows that tears should be spared, seeking counseling lowers your barometer of cool, and the last thing Mama tells them before boarding the bus or driving off in their economy car is to always say your prayers and trust in the Lord. Good advice, but when a bad day turns into a horrible semester, followed by seclusion, homesickness or failed grades, when does the black student muster the nerve to cry help! without being labeled unbalanced, unstable, or ridiculed?
Depression in the Black Community: Why we don’t get help
Mental illness is a physical illness or it could be just a temporary affect. Either way, it disrupts young lives and ruins academic careers when specialized care from a professional is not sought. Dinner table discussions about daily issues is not widely customary in the African American family (unless you’re one of Cosby’s Huxtables) so, silent-sadness is often embraced and endured. This is a dilemma for all African Americans because the mentally affected college dropout and graduate return to communities, enters the workforce, marries and often subsequently divorce, and some will parent children who are taught the same no discourse mentality that was culturally embedded.
When it comes to mental illness, talk is not cheap. Failure to talk costs lives. Mental Illness transcends the mere happy and depression, is simply one of many disorders that has multiple classifications. According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, African American are less likely to receive an accurate diagnosis than their Caucasian Counterparts.
The Depressed Symptomatology of Black College Men
BeBe Moore Campbell left us with outstanding literature that speaks well to the human condition and how we respond to it. More than anything, she left us with a charge to be aware regarding Mental Health: symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and stigma.
Next month, thousands of African American students will prepare to enter HBCU’s across the country. Some will be college freshman leaving home for the first time, others will transfer, and a legion of others will be returning upperclassmen suppressing date rape secrets, fear of failure, emotional turmoil over finances, and an array of other emotions that fuel anxiety, depression, and potential crisis.
As family, friends, relatives, and parents, we can slip them an extra $50, or have a heartfelt talk about our own experiences and the awareness of what we know they will likely harbor. Encourage them to phone home for no reason, seek help, talk to someone, talk to each other, and be more socially accepting of those issues African Americans tend to perpetuate as jokes and allow to negatively permeate our culture.
Give a college student something invaluable to pack in their suitcase this fall: mental health awareness. Let’s African American-extend our own adage: Each one, reach one, teach one, but let’s add: help one.
Penny Dickerson 2011