Black History Month: Mental Health Awareness Week
By Dianne Anderson
Getting mental health services before it’s too late has been a personal calling for community outreach advocate Linda Hart, something that she has felt compelled to deal with starting within her own family.
Everyone missed the first signs of distress, it went unnoticed as sometimes happens to people in crisis. The odd behavior can be shrugged off as a passing phase, something that was not true of her 22-year-old cousin, who jumped to her death from a Los Angeles freeway overpass in 2007.
It can throw the entire family into anguish. Nearly 11 years later, the mother is still experiencing high anxiety.
“Suicide is more difficult than someone that had an illness and died. It’s what could I have done?” said Hart, founder of the African American Mental Health Coalition.
Seeing it happen so close to home has made it all the more important to draw attention to the problem. She pushed for and won a state resolution for African American Mental Health Week, which is recognized as the second week of Black History Month.
With the suicide rate for young Black men at all-time highs, she is especially concerned about how few dollars are getting into programs that reach the grassroots level of the most at-risk community. Many are dealing with more complicated mental health aspects of poverty, violence and discrimination.
“Follow the dollars, that’s where it counts. That’s the only thing I get frustrated about,” said Hart.
Through her Seeds for Change program, she offers regular community outreach, door knocking with information, local workshops, and provides at-home presentations. She offers outreach worker training, along with peer-led support groups.
On an extremely tight budget, she said it’s difficult watching funding for programs like her own flow outside of the westside San Bernardino community, but she said the program manages to successfully reach larger crowds with a strong message of hope. Usually, the main attraction is the free healthy food, but participants walk away with information on health resources and where to go when crisis strikes.
People have come back to talk about how the outreach has changed their minds.
‘One guy came and told us that he was thinking about committing suicide when he came to one of our presentations,” Hart said. “Because of our presentation, he went and got help.”
This past decade has been especially fatal for young Black men and boys. In the ten years ending 2013, the number of Black children from age five through 11 that committed suicide had doubled, while the number of white kids that committed suicide decreased, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
For youth and older African Americans, several academic studies link the stress of racism and discrimination to post-traumatic stress disorder with higher rates of suicide. The CDC places suicide as the third leading cause of death for African American youth from 15 to 24 years old.
As part of Black History Month and African American Mental Health awareness, she is hosting the “Beautiful Art” display for its second year featuring two Westside artists that are mentally disabled. Set for mid-February, she said 15 pieces on canvas will display at Cal State University Bernardino, San Bernardino Valley College and First 5 San Bernardino.
The artists are both African American, and from the Westside. One is in his sixties and has been painting for decades. He lives with his mother, and suffers manic depression since his twin brother was killed many years ago. The other, homeless in his 30s, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but is under medication and functional.
The canvas art is abstract, and meticulous, and she hopes to raise awareness that people with mental health issues can create beautiful and valuable contributions to society. Eventually, she also would like to see the sale of pieces pay for art supplies, return a portion back to the artists for their talent, and allow expanded programming for mental health therapy.
Each piece is one of a kind.
“How an individual can do a drop after drop painting, it’s amazing. The detail has to be phenomenal, it’s a discipline that has to be reached,” she said.
For more information, see www.theaamhc.org or call 909-880-1343
For immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255