Author: Ryan Brown, URMND Founder
I have friends and family from every walk of life. From doctors I went to college with and worked extremely hard to gang members who have spent their lives in dangerous neighborhoods who are now in jail. I have been on both sides of this coin. My parents grew up in the Washington DC area during the crack-cocaine epidemic where they saw many of their friends get killed, hooked on drugs or suffer from mental illness due to their home lives (before mental health was really a thing).
Growing up in different socioeconomic environments all throughout your life can be eye-opening. I have lived deep in the country in Appomattox, Virginia (where the Civil War ended and not much has changed since 1865), in the suburbs 30 minutes west in Lynchburg, Virginia and reacquainted with city life living in Richmond for college and DC post-grad.
Living in Appomattox and Lynchburg taught me how to be more mindful when it comes dealing with people who may not have any idea about the outside world around them. Most people in this particular area only have to deal with maybe a couple black people their entire lives and probably never have to deal with anyone that considers themselves Muslim or Jewish. With that, it skews their view of what life is like in the rest of the world and what is acceptable when it comes to treating all people equally.
Where you live and who you surround yourself with can not only shape your personality, but develop how you deal with situations that affect your mental health. For example, if you surround yourself with people who think mental health is not a big issue then more than likely you are not going to tend to it out of fear of rejection or not being understood.
We all know there are so many factors when it comes to how an individual develops a mental illness. It can be your family, your neighborhood or even schools. But when there are fears of even going outside due to a past experience of violence, bullying or issues of poverty and not finding a job, this can have a devastating effect on someone's mental health moving forward. According to a recent study, community health centers in ethnic neighborhood are reporting high rates of common mental illnesses (depression, anxiety, PTSD, drug abuse).
As much as rappers like to brag about their poor and very humble upbringings and how it has shaped who they are as a person, let’s make something clear:
Being from a poor community sucks and it probably did some significant damage to your mental health and social well being.
For example, let’s take a look at Chicago. There have been over 600 homicides this year and since 2009, the city has closed six mental health facilities in the city. As homicides continue to spike, residents are losing resources that can possibly help them cope with the trauma that is surrounding them everyday. Neighborhoods that experience the most gun violence have the highest amount of hospitalizations for depression, anxiety, self-medication and other behavioral health issues, city data shows.
Knowing that you may not make it home after school as a child, that there are no jobs or programs available in the area that you have lived in your entire life and there is little support to help you with your mental and physical issues is devastating. Violence becomes a vital sign of traumatized individuals with mental health risks. The lack of mental health professionals, facilities and support leads to self-medicating and that turns into a vicious cycle where thousands are being hospitalizing and killed every year.
So what can be done? It’s really hard to say. If Chicago can’t even keep their public schools open it’s tough to believe that mental health clinics and treatment centers are even options. The system is not particularly tailored to people of color or low income communities and that has been well documented. But African Americans are starting to take their mental health more seriously than they have been before and that has become a huge breath of fresh air. The key to keep that momentum going is to have resources in areas that are underserved, undervalued and oppressed.
The strength and resilience along with habits of not solving our mental health issues effectively has been well documented when it comes to people of color. Whether we use church to better ourselves or self-medication to curb the pain, we are endangering our overall health and losing sleep by constantly worrying about being targets or not have the resources to manage our lives effectively in the neighborhoods that are often untouched unless it is being gentrified to improve the lives of high income individuals.So as we continue to live and deal with our mental health in a variety of different ways, it is important that organizations, non-profits and even local/federal governments find a way to help those in these low-income areas where opportunities are rare and hope for the future is bleak. Imagine that your neighborhood didn’t even have a decent grocery store let alone healthcare facility. These are the challenges that many people face every single day and their mental health is at stake if things aren’t corrected sooner rather than later.