This July 2 marks the first annual International No Shame Day, created by black mental health advocacy organization The Siwe Project. The Siwe Project is the brainchild of poet and writer Bassey Ikpi, who has chronicled her own experience with Bipolar II disorder in Essence, The Root, xojane, MyBrownBaby and various other publications. The organization was founded in response to the suicide of her fifteen-year-old friend, Siwe Monsanto, who suffered from debilitating depression.
No Shame Day, which has been scheduled to coincide with the first Monday of National Minority Mental Health Month, aims to provide a safe, nonjudgmental space for people of color to share their own experiences or to speak as allies for family and friends who are battling mental illness. On July 2, visit The Siwe Project website to participate in discussions and to receive support, or tweet about your journey using the hashtag, #noshame. Ikpi is also encouraging everyone who can to get the word out about No Shame Day via their various social media outlets–Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr–well in advance of July 2, so that participation will be wide and the issue of black mental health can receive a proper spotlight.
Ikpi has become a very vocal ambassador for de-stigmatizing mental illness in the black community, a cause that could not be more vital. According to the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychiatric Association, just one in three African-Americans who need mental health care receives it, and those who do are likelier to stop treatment early or receive follow-up care.
The American Psychiatric Association further states:
Culturally diverse groups often bare a disproportionately high burden of disability resulting from mental disorders. This disparity does not stem from a greater prevalence rate or severity of illness in African Americans, but from a lack of culturally competent care, and receiving less or poor quality care.
For some disorders, such as schizophrenia and mood disorders, there is a high probability of misdiagnosis because of differences in how African-Americans express symptoms of emotional distress.
Their research indicates that culturally competent care, which includes an understanding of the various ways that mental illness is stigmatized, minimized, and explained away in the black community, is key.
This is why initiatives like No Shame Day are so significant. Though some of the stigma surrounding mental health issues seems to be slowly abating, there is still a broad cross-section of our community who still believes the problems can be prayed away or solved by simple changes to diet, attitude or environment. Some place the onus to improve or “cure” mental health issues squarely on the sufferer. And, as the American Psychiatric Association also points out, “Issues of distrust in the health care system and mental illness stigma frequently lead African-Americans to initially seek mental health support from non-medical sources.”
If you or someone you know could benefit from the discourse that will occur on No Shame Day, be sure to log into TheSiweProject.org on July 2. But you don’t have to wait until then to tell your story or to get involved. #Noshame should be our daily mantra.