Iyanla Vanzant has a message for African-Americans as it relates to mental health. Stop hiding. The teacher, educator and healer who is the host of “Iyanla, Fix My Life” on the OWN Network says that in order to fix what is happening you have to be able to acknowledge and name it.
When it comes to mental health, Vanzant told the Tom Joyner Morning Show that many in the African-American community choose to hide and stigmatize family members or friends who are struggling. And if they are the person with a mental health disorder, instead of seeking treatment, they will often suffer in silence.
“Coming up in this country the way we did, when someone had mental health issues it was considered a stigma. Those people were punished and shunned and cast off and somehow or another we’ve never corrected that. And we continue to do it. We either act like it doesn’t exist or we go into shame and fear and guilt. Neither is necessary.”
Vanzant says our legacy as enslaved people who continue to deal with racism even now, has a significant impact on how we deal with mental health issues as a community. Just about everyone can point to someone in their family with mental health issues – from the uncle hidden in the back room (as dramatized in the movie “Soul Food”) to a cousin or sibling.
“For people who already less than, limited and oppressed, it’s a lot to say there is something going on that we can’t control,” Vanzant says. “We’ve got to start looking at this as an opportunity for us to pull everyone up. So we can stop hiding the uncle and telling stories about the uncle and wondering if we have what he has.”
The key to achieving mental health is to stop hiding and seek answers and treatment. Many common mental health disorders – from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia run in families so it’s important everyone to find out what the specific issue is so that it can be identified and dealt with.
“We need to understand because there is a mental health issue it doesn’t make you defective, it doesn’t make you less than it doesn’t make you anyway a shame based individual. It could be physiological – it good be something in the body that’s affecting the mind. It could be ancestral. It could be a memory. It could be all sorts of reasons. When we know there is a mental health let’s get a name, let’s see what we call it, let’s see where it came from. That’s so important.”
Vanzant kicks off a new season of “Iyanla, Fix My Life” with former NFL star Terrell Owens on Saturday, November 2 at 9 p.m. “T.O. – what a powerful story,” Vanzant says. “I salute him for coming forward.”
Resources for those struggling with or interested in more information about African-Americans and mental health: