By Kathy Gaillard
July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. It was first formally recognized in May 2008 by the late Bebe Moore Campbell, a best-selling author, journalist, teacher and mental health advocate. Campbell passed away from cancer at the young age of 56 but not before witnessing the devastation of identifying, coping with, and eventually finding help for a relative who suffered from mental health issues. Campbell worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities. Today, National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each July to create awareness of the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness in the United States.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment. And the Black community sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black youth who are exposed to violence are at a greater risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by more than 25%.
Locally, Dr. Ramel L. Smith, a licensed Psychologist and President of BLAQUESMITH Psychological Consultative Services, works tirelessly to address the stigma of mental health, particularly in the Black community. Smith’s personal philosophy revolves around the fact that everyone needs help in some form or fashion. And, he has learned the more we help others, the more we really heal ourselves.
“There are so many social determinants plaguing our community that affect mental health. With so many disparities (e.g., low-birth rate, education, unemployment and health), society essentially breeds mental health issues. Too many of our children are born into a desperate and dysfunctional society. It’s no wonder that we have so many mental health issues,” Smith said.
Smith points to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) which have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration that can contribute to lifelong issues related to mental health and depression. ACE is a research study conducted by Kaiser Permanente Health Maintenance Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The premise of this study is that health is not determined by genetics alone, but rather, choices, environment and experiences all play a role.
Adverse Childhood Experiences include abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, mental illness, divorce, substance abuse or criminal activity—all of which can leave people more vulnerable to behaviors that can affect poor mental and physical health. The more ACEs an individual experiences the greater their risk. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, more than half of all adult Wisconsinites have experienced at least one ACE. How we deal with the experience largely depends on our ability to adapt to or recover from stress.
“As a society, we need to decide if we will really want to address this issue by putting a Band-Aid on it, or if we want to get to the root of the problem by addressing the core issues. For example, passing legislation to acknowledge Juneteenth Day as a federal holiday is a win for the Black community. But what about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act —sweeping legislation aimed at reforming the ways in which police departments enforce the nation’s laws—or the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill? These are critical reforms that remain in limbo. We can identify factors from slavery, to Jim Crow, to issues such as redlining, and the disproportionate number of prisoners who are Black and brown that affect mental health. There are so many issues that we don’t know when or where to begin to attack them.
“America spends enormous amounts of money on military. We should be able to take some of those discretionary, military dollars to address the mental health issues in our community. These issues can be eliminated. During the industrial revolution when Black families in Milwaukee were gainfully employed, we didn’t have the crime and violence that we see today. People had jobs. They could afford to take care of their families. They had hope,” Smith said.
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Below is a list of free or low-cost crisis and other mental health resources in the Milwaukee area. Many others are available. You can call 2-1-1 for more information.
Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division
Monday – Friday,
8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Serves uninsured Milwaukee County residents.
Provides mental health assessments, medications and therapy referrals.
Clients are seen on a first-come, first served basis, and there may be an extended wait time.
9455 Watertown Plank Rd.
Wauwatosa, WI 53226
Psychiatric Crisis Line
Hotline available 24/7.
Provides immediate emergency counseling and referral information.
Psychiatric Crisis Service and Admission
Emergency psychiatric services available 24/7.
Services include assessment, crisis intervention and medications.
9455 Watertown Plank Rd.
Wauwatosa, WI 53226
NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness – Southeast Wisconsin
Monday – Friday,
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Provides information and referrals for appropriate resources, support groups and advocacy services related to mental health.
Provides comprehensive mental health care and support for children, teens and young adults who cannot afford services elsewhere. Also provides specific counseling for young victims of sexual abuse. Call for more information or to schedule an appointment. A sliding fee scale is available.
4200 N. Holton St. –
Walker’s Point Youth and Family Center
Free and confidential counseling services with a focus on runaways, homeless and other youth and their families. Provides 24/7 crisis hotline, family and parent counseling, individual and group counseling, referrals and emergency shelter for runaways and youths in crisis.
2030 W. National Ave.
Peer-run support line for those with mental illness. This is not a crisis line.