July Is the Best Month to Start a
New Year of Working on Mental Health
Harold W. Neighbors, Ph.D.
Division of Intramural Research
National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
When I started graduate school in the mid-1970s, I had just one seemingly simple research question. I wanted to know: “Who had the higher rate of mental illness, Black or White Americans?” I remember the puzzled looks from fellow students, as most of them already knew the answer – “Blacks of course!” Their reasoning made good sense – life was harder for Blacks in the United States, and a life spent fighting against racial discrimination can lead to emotional damage.
So, I began my investigation, uncovering layer after layer of complexity surrounding what I thought was a simple question. My motivations were both professional and personal. Personally, like many families, Black and White, mine had revealed a few semi-private stories about “bad nerves” (the preferred language of emotional distress used to describe mental health problems) that were offered for consumption in the smallest of morsels. And even though my curiosity was never quite satisfied, I instinctively knew not to push for too many details. Professionally, there was my first “big” assignment as a graduate research assistant on a new, innovative study, the “National Survey of Black Americans”1. I wrote my dissertation on one aspect of the subject: help-seeking behavior for mental health problems, using data from the National Survey of Black Americans. My dissertation research told me that Black Americans need to stop, look, listen, and most importantly, tell the truth about our feelings. The key to sound mental health is what people of color decide to do about profound sadness, feelings of helplessness resulting from attacks on our self-esteem, and hopelessness due to unjust institutional impediments that erode aspirations for achieving one’s best life2. My investigation revealed that when feelings become unbearably painful, they are symptoms. Once you are symptomatic, you need to get help. It is just that simple; and difficult; and complicated. Continue reading “National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Series”