Bringing Light to the Darkness of Depression

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    JOVAN BELCHER, who grew up on Long Island before becoming the linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, died Dec. 1 in a murder-suicide. The police have not yet established a motive for the shooting or determined if his mental condition was a factor. Belcher, 25, who joined the NFL in 2009 as a free agent with the Chiefs, reportedly shot his girlfriend in her home in front of her mother, then traveled to his training facility. Belcher reportedly met with Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel in the parking lot. He thanked them for giving him the opportunity to play before shooting himself. A three-month-old child is left behind.

    Time to break the mental health taboo

    By Bankole Thompson

    Depression is a major social issue that cuts across boundaries and knows no title or economic status. Yet it doesn’t get the atttention and focus it deserves to save its victims, those who are struggling to free themselves from the shackles of anxiety and undue pressures. Depression has been stigmatized rather than recognized for the condition it is.

    Whether those facing depression as a result of varying challenges have their lives tucked away in a book, on a computer or simply in letters or suicide notes they wrote to their friends or parents, depression hits even harder during the holiday season.

    While I’m not a psychologist or someone trained in the business of dissecting the human mind, this issue affects all of us and cannot be ignored when we are losing so many people to the ravages of depression and in some cases it has resulted in suicide, and the numbers are growing.

    Especially in the African American community, mental illness has taken a back seat at all of our town hall meetings where the emphasis is on defending civil and human rights, seeking economic justice and chasing upper class dreams, but totally ignoring the complexities and solutions to mental health problems facing our community.

    While fighting for these democratic values ensure that the principles of the Bill of Rights born out of the Magna Carta are not ignored by those in political leadership, mental health should be a front burner issue for any community that wants to extricate itself from the bondage of long-suffering and a hopeless future for some.

    A community that has endured some of the most difficult experiences in history should understand not only the strains and stresses on the human soul, but the individual’s psychological crucibles that come under the demands of mundane existence. Plain and simple, a healthy body operates under the direction of a sound mind.

    The next invitation to a town hall or symposium that comes across my desk should speak to mental health challenges. We can’t ignore this critical problem and we can’t keep dismissing those who are deeply struggling with mental issues as basically failures or individuals who have no recourse in life.

    We should not assume that those who are facing these difficulties have not prayed enough. We should recognize the intervention of God in mental health situations, but on a human level we need to convene and see what kinds of assistance we can give to address the problem.

    This is why to those who have been abandoned and left alone, the Affordable Health care Law is both gratifying and beneficial because community clinics will have the financial and human resources to tackle some of these issues.

    I’d like to see focus groups, organizations and institutions that pride themselves on leading the charge for Black empowerment craft a serious mental health agenda in Detroit, especially during the Obama era. Let us utilize the same zest, dynamism, creativity and force that’s applied to the other dimensions of the Black struggle to the fight for mental health in our community.

    In 2013, we need to set a new agenda and mental health should be near the top of the list. It can no longer take a back seat and we cannot continue to exhibit naked apathy that now begins to border on quiet antipathy.

    Because after a while this apathy starts to become an aggressive attitude toward those who need help in our community and that’s when we hear statements like, “You are on your own,” “You’ve not prayed enough,” “Go back to school,” “Get your life together,” “Have you been using drugs?” and even “You are crazy.”

    No, the issue is that those who have been charged to be a lantern in our community have not shined enough light on this issue, demanding corrective measures that will safeguard the future of our communities. Perhaps if we had 50 rallies on mental health we could save more lives and prevent others from jumping off the mental cliff.

    We can’t continue to descend into stereotypes that mental health is only a poverty issue even though it disproportionately affects the poor. The situation with Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. defies that long-held notion. Mental health knows no status.

    Let’s step up and save lives, and help heal those who are suffering from mental problems in our community. They are deserving of every support because they belong in this community and we cannot fold our hands and look the other way.

    A community that seeks to progress should not engage in selective self-determination struggles or pick and choose what issues it wants to highlight while ignoring an issue like mental health that sits at the center of our collective well-being.

    Next year, let us commit to breaking the mental health taboo and helping those who are suffering in silence. Let’s stop pretending and take the blinders off.

    Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of the forthcoming book “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future With Courage.” His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail or visit his personal page at


    Are they a threat to themselves or others?
    By Dr. Barika Butler-Quarles

    That is the question that mental health and medical professionals tackle when deciding how to treat a patient struggling with medical disorders affecting their mental health and well-being. Medical disorders? Yes. Diagnoses like depression, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive), anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder are medical illnesses, not unlike diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer.

    Although it remains a work in progress in the African-American community, promoting awareness and ensuring that people are seeking treatment for the above mentioned common medical conditions, we have made progress.

    We know that we must exercise, monitor our cholesterol and fat intake, stop smoking and perform self-breast exams. Your sister may ask you when you had your last mammogram and your brother when you last checked your blood sugar. But when was the last time anyone asked you how you were feeling with your moods and how you were handling your stress? Who do you think took the time to ask young Black men like the Kansas City Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher how he was coping with life?

    Murder-suicides happen. Within the Black community, there is a sense that “things like that” happen elsewhere, that those are “them, not us” issues.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control, depression affects at least 1 in 10 adults, and is highest in young adults 25 to 44 years of age. The next time you are at a major sporting event or a nightclub, count off 1 of every 10 people that you see and you will be faced with how staggering depression and mental illness are. This is not 1 in 10 White Americans, not 1 in 10 women, this is 1 in 10 of all people. And the numbers are likely higher given that so many never recognize or seek treatment for mental illness.

    In my practice, I am always pleasantly surprised to see a minority patient walk through the door seeking help for their emotional struggles. As I ask them about their family history, I receive answers like, “My grandmother was crazy” or “I had an uncle who drank himself to death.”

    And of course, the phantom family members in our community who just disappear, such as the woman who is known as “the aunt with the issues.”

    So many of these cases were likely undiagnosed mental illness. Mental illness knows no color, no cultural bounds, no age, no financial status. Whether an NFL starting linebacker or a DPS high school senior, mental illness is real and it is in the Black community. The stigma associated with “being crazy” and not seeing help is killing us.

    We are losing our mothers, brothers and children to these overlooked, under-diagnosed and misunderstood diseases of the mind. The next time you see a sister or brother struggling, encourage them to seek help. Talk with someone about the loneliness, despair, hopelessness and sadness that may be plaguing their life. Sure, you can’t draw blood and measure your “depression” level, but trained mental health professionals and doctors can diagnose and treat, with therapy or medications, and change someone’s life for the better.

    It is time that we recognize that our community is not immune to diseases of the mind and that these are not just feelings that will go away. Like any major illness, you must recognize the signs and seek help quickly. We cannot afford to have any more of our own die needlessly. What happened in Kansas City is a tragedy, and not a isolated one. It is time for us to stop shaking our heads and thinking that it can never happen to us. It just did.

    Signs of Depression:
    1. Depressed, sad, or irritable mood
    2. Loss of interest in things that would generally bring joy
    3. Decrease or increase in sleep, trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night
    4. Change in appetite
    5. Guilt
    6. Lack of energy
    7. Difficulty concentrating
    8. Feeling physically slowed down
    9. Feeling helpless, hopeless
    10. Thoughts or attempts at harming yourself or others

    National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

    Barika M. Butler-Quarles is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Literature, Science and Arts with a Bachelor of Science in Biopsychology and the Cognitive Sciences. She earned her medical degree at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Following graduation, she completed her residency in adult psychiatry at the University of Michigan Hospitals in Ann Arbor. She extended her specialty training and completed a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at Wayne State University/Detroit Medical Center. She provides medical and psychiatric care for children, adolescents and adults, and is a practicing physician at Behavioral Medical Center in Troy as well as at New Passages Community Mental Health organization in Macomb County, Easter Seals and Vista Maria. 

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