An Open Letter to the African American Church About Mental Illness

You have been the hedge of protection around the African American community from slavery through the present day. However, I must respectfully call you out for avoiding the candid conversation about depression; that large pink and purple elephant that has roamed around many of your sanctuaries for years.

I appreciate your reluctance to openly discuss and embrace depression. I have suffered crippling episodes of depression for at least 39 of my 53 years of living. During many of these bouts, death stalked and taunted me to end my life. God protected me through each bout and blocked me from ending my life. Living with depression can be simultaneously chaotic, messy, scary, painful and hard. But my experience has taught me that the hard associated with my depression does not diminish the power and authenticity of my testimony. In fact it is the hard, painful and messy part of my mental illness that prompted me to begin sharing my testimony about living with depression. I want those living with depression to know that they do not walk alone.

Data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reveals that African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health challenges than the general population. A significant portion of this same 20% can be found throughout every African American church from the pulpit to the very last pew. Sadly, misconceptions about depression within some African American churches has severely undermined their members' recovery. These same misconceptions have caused some living with depression to question whether they actually have faith in God and reinforces shame and stigma.

When faced with shame, stigma, and possible rejection by their beloved church, African American members, preachers, and teachers become expert at using everything except the appropriate treatment to hide their depression. They continue preaching, teaching, and serving despite the crushing weight of despair associated with untreated depression all while silently praying for a fresh anointing. The African American church must be that same hedge of protection around those living with depression and other mental illnesses. As an institution, the church cannot effectively speak life, healing, or peace to anyone unless it's preachers, teachers, and members are mentally and spiritually healthy.

Fulfilling your role as the hedge of protection around African Americans requires you to support those within your community who live with a mental illness. You have taught us that we overcome through the power of our testimony. However, that testimony will ring hollow if your members, teachers, and preachers continue to wear the visible chains of untreated depression while carrying the baggage that accompanies it. So dear African American church I am calling you out. Lives are at stake. "The Potter wants to put you back together again." Jeremiah 18:3-4. It is time to convene a candid and crucial conversation about depression.

My mantra for living with depression is #noapology, #nocondemnation, #noretreat, #nosurrender.

Resources

https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/Why-Should-African-American-Churches-Care-about-Me

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2016/Why-Faith-Is-Important-to-African-American-Mental

https://www.nami.org/NAMIFaithnet

https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/NAMI-FaithNet/Tips-For-How-to-Help-a-Person-with-Mental-Illness

http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/faith-community-leaders/index.html

http://www.samhsa.gov/faith-based-initiatives