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Agnes B. Levine

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by Agnes B. Levine   
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Last edited: Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009

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Agnes B. Levine

Overcoming Cultural Barriers: The Reasons African-Americans Avoid Mental H
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Knowing what are brain disorders in order to take the first step of seeking mental healthcare.

Mental illnesses are properly known as brain disorders and are due to a chemical imbalance. Currently, there is no absolute scientific certainty about what causes the chemical imbalance; however, medical experts know that there is no cure for brain disorders. Many experts believe the chemical imbalance is caused by a traumatic event in an individual's life or by genetics, or other stressors.

There are many medications and several therapies to treat the brain disorder. Medications help to restore the chemical balance and therapies help individuals treat the symptoms and create a quality of life around the brain disorder (i.e., employment).

Mental illnesses make it difficult or impossible to live a normal life without medication and therapy and life-style changes (diet, exercise). Any person at any age of any race can develop a mental illness.

Mental illnesses are NOT curable but they ARE treatable and this allows people with a mental illness to live an improved, productive, and quality life.

The symptoms of mental illnesses vary by each type of brain disorder depending on the area of the brain affected by the disorer and the person. The sooner treatment is started, the better and longer the healthy part of the brain will function!

Medications are available to treat those symptoms making it possible to lead a normal life, but the medications must be taken regularly as prescribed. The symptoms of brain disorders are many and exhaustive for me to describe. However, because I am diagnosed with Bipolar I can share with you my familiarity about the symptoms.

First, Bipolar is when a person has mood swings ranging from Manic Depression to Hypomania Depression. This means that when a person is in a Manic Depression mood, the person is feeling extremely sad, hopeless, and possibly suicidal. The energy level is very low, appetite is very poor, sleeping is irregular, worry or nervousness is increased, interest in televisionor normal activities is lacking, restlessness exists, risk-taking behaviors exists, there is little ability to concentrate, and the person may have aches and pains.

Second, the opposite of Manic Depression is frequently known as Hypomania although the symptoms are not exactly opposite of Manic Depression. When Hypomania occurs, the individual experiences periods of excessive energy, racing thoughts, rapid talking, increased sex drive, extreme happy feelings, aggressive behaviors, substance abuse, paranoia, easy irritation, sleeplessness, poor judgment, sustained unusual behavior, and often deny anything is wrong.

In both cases, an individual could experience one or more of these symptoms daily (mood swings) and the symptoms could last for months without treatment. One of the chief reasons an individual or family member of any race group will not initiate contact with a healthcare professional is that they are not aware treatment exists and the stigma attached to mental illness is great. In order to decrease the statistics on untreated mental illnesses in America, individuals must seek and obtain mental healthcare.

According to resources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 2 million people in America do not receive mental healthcare treatment. (Visit;

One effort to decrease this staggeringly high rate of untreated persons is to make access to mental healthcare affordable. This is especially true for the high cost of maintenance medications that an individual with a brain disorder must take each day. While there is definitely room for improvement, there are plenty of financial resources available from drug companies and insurance companies to make mental illness medications affordable and accessible to those diagnosed with a mental illness.

Unfortunately, mental illnesses carry an ugly stigma that influences people to deny having a mental illness and seek treatment. Research and studies are changing almost daily resulting in more factual information and drugs to treat mental illnesses. With the flow of new information, it is possible for an individual with a brain disorder such as Bipolar to be a productive member in society with education and employment.

Most research today suggest that women are the carriers of genes responsible for Depression and/or Bipolar. However, men suffer from these two mental illnesses as well.

Most research today also suggest that men are the carriers of genes resulting in Schizophrenia. However, women suffer from this mental illness as well.

One reason that mental illness carries a stigma is that people suffering from a mental illness 50 years ago were institutionalized in a facility and their care and treatment were substandard. There was no focus on prevention and coping mechanisms for a mental illness.

Today, individuals with a mental illness have rights to live in the community in a least restrictive environment (barring criminal activity). Today, the focus has shifted to treating the mental illness and teaching management of the mental illness as well as coping skills. Organizations such as NAMI and Ariafya LLC provide resources to help people and family members cope and manage Bipolar.

In most scenarios, mental illness is generational. That means that denial and lack of treatment is a behavior that is learned from family members. Thus, people carry on their lives without helping loved ones get the mental healthcare he or she needs. An untreated mental illness can develop in to a more serious mental illness, suicide, and the behavior of not seeking treatment gets passed on to the next generation. For example, a child with ADHD could possibly become an adult with Bipolar.

Untreated mental illnesses disrupt the entire family and community. America spends 100 billion dollars a year on untreated mental illneses.

Children affected by mental illnesses range from 5 - 9 percent of the population between ages 5 - 17. These children will become adults with mental illnesses!

One in every 5 families will have a loved one affected by a mental illness. With proper treatment, 70 - 90 percent of individuals with a mental illness will significantly improve their quality of life.

Approximately 2.5 million people with a mental illness are unemployed!

Approximately 1 in 20 persons with a mental illness is homeless. With the right treatment, 95-98 percent of these people can live within a community. These persons can receive supports and services with dignity!

Below are agencies that specialize in providing supports and services for the mentally ill person and family. Your primary physician can also (should) make referrals, but you may have to be courageous and honest with him or her and ask for mental healthcare services. It is important for family and friends to support a mentally ill family member and education about the illness and available supports are key steps to the success of living with a mental illness.

In my book, "Cooling Well Water: A Collection of Work By An African-American Bipolar Woman" (ISBN 13 0-978-9754612-0-4), I briefly discuss the onset of Bipolar that I learned in hindsight and I included a handy list of general resources to keep at your finger tips.

See, "Bipolar Disorder: What Is It?" By Krisha McCoy,
See, "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting" By Terrie M. Williams,Scribner NY NY 2008, pp. 261-189;
See, CDC. Suicide among children, adolescents, and young adults - United States, 1980-1992. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1995; 44(15):289-91.

Web Site: Levine-Oliver Publisher

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