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Listen to Senator Hughes interview with Roland Martin above.

Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes is known by Philadelphians as a hands-on legislator with an active community agenda. As part of that agenda, the West Philadelphia native has been a major part of raising awareness for HIV/AIDS along with his wife, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph and for sponsoring events that deal with finances and assistance for the elderly.

Hughes is also very passionate about mental health. This year, he will hold his fifth mental health symposium, ‘Breaking The Silence’ at Temple University’s medical school on April 4th and 5th. Here’s why Hughes feels that mental health is particularly important in the African-American community. What made you want to hold this event in the first place?

Sen. Hughes: It’s about people getting access to resources and services and also feel comfortable about talking about issues with respect to their own mental health. There is a lot of suffering going on – a lot of suffering. The only thing that is making it better it that through the Affordable Care Act the insurance and the services are now opening up to folks that hadn’t been available to them beforehand. But with the economic pressures and everything that’s going on, we need to make sure that there’s a space for folks to have a comfortable conversation and get directed to resources to helping them deal with their issues.

What do you think the major obstacles are for African-Americans seeking mental health care?

There is still a stigma. There is still a tendency to shun people who are suffering from depression or bipolar disorder or some issue like that. The most important thing we can do, as our conference is called is break the silence, and allow safe, comfortable places for folks to discuss their concerns and get access to the best information and providers that are out there. So that people say ‘There is help for me.’ The more we talk about it, the more we get diagnosed for these problems, the better off we will be. Stress for so many folks causes a tremendous amount of pressure. There are more of us who are unemployed, there are more of us who are underemployed, there are more of us who are uninsured and more of us who are underinsured. That stress manifests itself in a lot of mental health problems.

You mentioned stress. What do you think about this idea that some of our young males and females in big cities all around the country are suffering from PTSD because of the kind of environments they grow up in?

No doubt about it. When you live in a community where the exposure to violence is [commonplace] I think it’s easy to see that some folks become numb to it and see it as a reality. The stress and the PTSD all of that comes out of that. That is not where we’re supposed to be as human beings. So many of our folks are just stuck in these communities where there’s no outlet. What we’re trying to do with breaking the silence is at the very least, deal with the mental health issues that come out of these low-income communities with severe violence going on. Hopefully we can utilize the forum that we’re doing to get a better grasp on the public policy that needs to be created out of that.

For more on the ‘Breaking the Silence’ mental health symposium, click here. And to contact Sen. Hughes or to request constituent services, click here.

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