taboo subjects and then there are taboo subjects. In the African
American community, mental health is a taboo subject, and especially
when it comes to Black men. Members of the Gamma Pi Chapter of Omega Psi Phi
Fraternity, Inc. did their best to bring this subject out into the open during
a mental health seminar on Saturday, October 29, at the Jones-Hill House
fieldhouse on the campus of the University of Maryland. The purpose of the
two-hour session was to educate about the impact and challenges of mental
health in the African-American community, especially regarding Black men.
|Bro. Coach Mike Locksley addresses audience |
session featured presentations by three practicing medical professionals and a local
married couple who have had their own personal experience with mental health
battles. They both now work in the mental health nonprofit sector through the
National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). Behind it all was Gamma Pi Chapter member
Bro. Coach Mike Locksley, head football coach at the University of Maryland,
and the fellow members of his initiation group from Spring 2022: George Montgomery, Phd., Brandon Cannaday, Kelvin Romney, Lee Best, Quentin Wilson, Mfon Etuk, Dwight Rollins, Fred Johnson III, Derek E. Davis and Satrick Richardson.
This group of Omega men have been planning the event since the summer. The formal title of the event was, “Removing the Mask … Making
Mental Health a Priority …,..Eliminating the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
in the Black Community So That We May Lift One Another as Black Men.”
“This is a
passion for me. Mental illness affects us all. You never know,” said Bro.
Locksley kicking off the day’s program. His
opening followed the screening of a much-talked-about video feature that takes
an in-depth look at the mental health struggles of his late son, Meiko, who was
murdered in Howard County, Md in 2017. The video is entitled “Father Time.”
This powerful, moving and emotional film set the tone for the remainder of the
program. It drew tears.
presenter, David Driver,MD, who operates a practice in Bethesda, emphasized the
various ways in which mental health affects the Black Community and informed
the audience that just like with other areas of health, African Americans are disproportionately
impacted by mental illness. “Quite often people don’t seek care until they are
in crisis.” He provided some valuable information on depression, anxiety, and
how people can still be high-functioning with these disorders. Dr. Driver also mentioned
that 10% of African Americans have no health insurance and that the ages of
18-24 are where most psychological issues occur.
The audience of about 50 also heard from Kristi Hall, PsyD, who recently became Director of Sports
Psychology for the Maryland football team. In her presentation, Dr. Hall stressed
that African-American men are experiencing a huge mental health burden, but because
of the way the system is set up, many tend not to search for mental health services.
She also told the audience that common mental health conditions like schizophrenia,
chronic depression and bipolar disorder look differently in African Americana
than in other populations. A stumbling block for many African-Americans is the cost
of mental health care and the hard reality that many psychologists do not accept
insurance. The highlight of Dr. Hall’s presentation that seemed to resonate
most with the audience was her introduction of and explanation about the
emotional wheel which is used to better identify and understand people’s
emotional experience at any given time.
|Presenters share life-saving information|
Carter, PsyD, with MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, talked about her
work with children and families including in school-based situations. She explained
how African-American churches and pastors are now getting more involved in
providing or linking parishioners to mental health services. Previously, this
was not an area churches engaged as a part of their social services support agenda.
Dr. Carter also
highlighted a particularly important study for the African-American community that
links ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to mental health issues later in life.
These revolve around abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. These conditions
are synonymous with what many African American families in underserved
communities experience. What often happens
in African American households in relation to the ACES study is that current
and older generations will put the damper on mental health care by taking the attitude
of, “I had all of these experiences and I turned out OK” (without having treatment).
|Audience members look on|
The final presenters, married couple James and Charnene Freeny, representing NAMI, gave very dramatic snd eye-opening accounts of their personl xtruggles with mental illnes. This including Charnene's two attempted suicides as a young adult and James' psychotic episodes earlier in his life.
Listening to the questions that came from the audience, it was
clear that many people are impacted by mental illness in some aspects of their
lives, whether family, friends, neighbors or themselves. It was also clear from
the questions that the audience was taking in a lot of the very good information
that was coming over the transom.
|The words on the screeen say it all ...|
"Given the overall impact of health disparities on the African American community, we must be vigilant about taking every opportunity to learn about ways to improve both our phiyical and mental health," said Gamma Pi Basileus (president) Bro. Richard Allison II. "This event was about looking closely at our mental health needs first by getting rid of the stigma and then sharing credible information. I'm proud that Gamma Pi Chapter is leading this effort in the community."
Thanks to Gamma Pi’s Spring 2022 group along with the chapter’s
Heath Initiatives Committee for organizing a great and truly informative
For further information, visit these websites: NAMI Prince George’s County (https://namipgc.org) and the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless (https://dccfh.org).
Below: Brothers from Gamma Pi and two presenting sorors from Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., celebrate unity after participating in and attending the program. Thanks to Bro. Quentin Wilson for these photos. Find more photos and short video clips here.