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Mental health problems and African Americans

Reported by: Wayne Hereford
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Updated: 10/07/2013 9:02 pm
TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) — In a shooting last month at the Navy Yard in Washington, several people were killed by a man identified by authorities as Aaron Alexis, a lone gunman and Navy veteran who they say was treated for paranoia.

And then just last week, Miriam Kerry was shot and killed by police near the the U.S. Capitol after she went on a rampage.

Police say Kerry suffered from delusions and had a history of mental health problems.

These two incidents highlight what one local professional says is a problem among some black people.

"A lot of times, African-Americans don't seek the treatment that they need for a mental illness," said Nakimia Agnew of Tupelo's Family Resource Center.

Agnew is a state-certified mental health professional who operates a private practice in Tupelo.

"We think of mental illness — there's a stigma to it, there's a taboo about it. It's something bad, and it's something we should be embarrassed about," she continued.

And therefore, she adds, many do not seek treatment in a certified professional setting.

"Because we say that it's crazy Uncle Joe or we say that it's something other than mental illness, we have justifications for it," said Agnew.

In fact, Agnew adds that in some cases, African-American families wait until something happens or things get out of hand before seeking help about a problem.

She says couple that with inadequate health care access and poverty among African-Americans and the problem becomes more difficult.

According to Agnew, more African-American therapists could help the situation.

"A lot of times we feel better talking with people who look like us. Men feel better with men, women feel better with women," she said.

That's why she says the problem should be addressed soon since mental illness, just like every other disease, can get progressively worse if left untreated.

"And then we end up with things like somebody attacking the Capitol or somebody attacking the naval base," she concluded.

Agnew says that small signs of mental illness could include difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, poor self-esteem and trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
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