At the height of her professional career, Maia Campbell was a beautiful TV star who had a featured role on the LL Cool J show, “In the House.”
But the lowest blow was recorded and posted on the Internet in an embarrassing and humiliating moment as she is arguing with some round-the-way boys, acting erratically and talking angrily and incoherently.
Maia has been public about her own and her family’s battle with schizophrenia. Also, her mother, the late Bebe Moore Campbell, documented their family struggles with mental illness.
Given her family history of mental illness, one would think this is the red flag that she is in need of professional help, but instead people have been on twitter – laughing at her.
Obviously, this is no laughing matter. Hopefully Maia’s friends and family are coming to her aid and are making sure she is getting professional help. But in the meantime, there are plenty of other Maias out there – men, women, young and old – who suffer silently or act out in front of others. They need help, but are too sick or scared to get it.
Mental illness should be of concern to all communities but according to a United States Surgeon General Report, especially to the African-American community, which is over-represented in high-need populations that are particularly at risk for mental illnesses:
– People who are homeless. While representing only 12% of the U.S. population, African-Americans make up about 40% of the homeless population.
– People who are incarcerated. Nearly half of all prisoners in State and Federal jurisdictions and almost 40% of juveniles in legal custody are African-Americans.
– Children in foster care and the child welfare system. African-American children and youth constitute about 45% of children in public foster care and more than half of all children waiting to be adopted.
– People exposed to violence. African-Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than are non-Hispanic whites. One study reported that over 25% of African-American youth exposed to violence met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Among Vietnam War veterans, 21% of black veterans, compared to 14% of non-Hispanic white veterans, suffer from PTSD, apparently because of the greater exposure of blacks to war-zone trauma.
There are many cultural and economic reasons that members of our community do not get proper medical and mental health care: a lack of mental health resources, lack of insurance, lack of income, and of course, a deep distrust of the medical establishment by black folks. It’s a distrust that was fueled by the infamous Tuskegee Experiments.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to people getting help for their mental illness has nothing to do with money or culture; it’s the essence of mental illness itself, shame, fear and paranoia. The shame of having to admit to a friend that you have a problem and you are afraid of being viewed as crazy. The fear that you cannot control your thinking – that you may be losing your mind. The paranoia that may set in if you are too far gone in your mental illness and falsely believe your doctors and loved ones are trying to hurt instead of help you, especially if you are involuntarily placed in a hospital and forced to take medications. Now multiply those feelings a thousand times if you are a teenager or young adult.
Drug abuse often times accompanies these mental health conditions. Drugs either mask and/or exacerbate the illnesses. Sadly, the use of drugs might be a form of self-medication in an effort to either reduce the symptoms of the illness or to avoid taking the psychiatric medications.
Having a mental illness is hard for the individual, tough on the family, and a blight on a society that often looks the other way or does not properly extend a helping hand. We are that society and we must all do our part to help each other. The negative, funny twitter comments must cease, and we should instead turn our energies to helping Maia and people like her by reaching into the darkness of their mental illness and guiding them towards the light of treatment and healing.