While sitting at a traffic light at a busy intersection in Philadelphia, Glenn Wilson looked in his rearview mirror and spotted a young, black man in a hoodie running toward his car. His first reaction was to be prepared for danger; was someone chasing him, was the young man in trouble? Should he call the police?
As the hooded man slowed down and started to jog past his car, Wilson realized that his fear was misplaced. “He wasn’t running from anyone,” said Wilson, a victim advocate for the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance. “He was running to catch the bus. My fear is a perfect example of affects of systemic, institutionalized racism and the mental anxieties caused by the residual traumas of enslavement.”
The mental affects of enslavement, anxiety, depression, suicide were just a few of the issues related to mental health in the black community discussed during the 5th Breaking the Silence on Mental Wellness Conference. Sponsored by State Sen. Vincent Hughes the two-day conference held at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia included more than 100 interactive workshops and group discussions that addressed topics related to mental health and how the community can work together to develop strategies to address mental wellness.
“The vision for this conference is to tear down barriers that hinder people from getting the help they need, educate communities about disorders, and reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health,” Hughes said. “We’ve internalized a lot of pain as a community. It’s time to stop suppressing it and open up the dialogue.”
The stigma attached to mental health makes it challenging for those who are suffering to seek help. This is particularly true in the African-American community, said conference presenter Argie Allen, director or clinical training in couple and family therapy at Drexel University. Mental illness can disrupt a person’s feelings, thoughts and ability to relate to others. Millions of people and their families are affected by these disorders, which can cause unspeakable pain that severely impairs how they function in the world.
However, trans-generational patters can be broken when people are willing to take the time to seek out support, Allen explained during a panel on mental health in families.