July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, but if it weren’t for Bebe Moore Campbell, who the month was originally named after, we might not have the annual platform to address our health needs.
As an author, journalist, and mental health advocate, Campbell helped establish the Inglewood, California branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which expanded into today’s NAMI Urban Los Angeles.
After supporting a loved one who battled with mental illness and advocating for others, she passed away on November 27, 2006 — but her legacy lives on.
On June 2, 2008, the United States Congress formally recognized July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.
Along with honoring Campbell’s life and legacy, it’s essential to talk about how to dismantle mental health stigma, where Black people can access mental health resources, and how to navigate the mental health system.
We did just that during “Taking the Shame Away From Mental Illness,” a Twitter Space we hosted on July 20. Our panel included NAMI representatives Harold Turner, the executive director of NAMI Urban Los Angeles, and Gloria Walker, the executive director of NAMI Urban Greater Cincinnati Network.
Also on the panel were Dr. Nicole Cammack, a licensed clinical psychologist and the CEO of Black Mental Wellness Corp, and Dr. Rheeda Walker, the best-selling author of “The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health.”
Similar to Campbell, many workers and volunteers at NAMI first accessed the organization’s free services to support themselves or their loved ones battling mental illness.
“I got to NAMI like most people get to NAMI. Didn’t know much about mental health. Had no previous experience with it. And all of it sudden, it invades your home and claimed my daughter at the time,” Turner says.
Turner says his wife encouraged him to attend NAMI’s Family-to-Family course — a free eight-session program for family, significant others, and friends of people with mental health conditions.
Before that, he’d been “wandering around” for nine years doing the best he could “with whatever resources I could muster at the time.”
He says the services were “amazing” and “too good to be a secret.”
“I got there, and I couldn’t believe how everybody knew what my next question was before I had even formulated it in my mind,” he recalls. “Not only was it educational. It was transformative — transformative for both me, my loved one, and my family.”
NAMI was life-changing for Gloria also, who connected with the organization while caring for her son’s mental health over 30 years ago.
Today, the organization continues to support families around the country through local branches.
“Once I had that information and had become educated, I was breathing. I was really breathing…I think for families that go through that, the stigma is gone from them. They’re on a mission to try to help their loved ones and try to help other people,” she says.
Dr. Nicole Cammack is also working to eliminate mental health stigma in the Black community. Her organization, D.C.-based Black Mental Wellness Corp, works directly with organizations and corporations to educate them on healthy practices and mental health resources.
They also work with youth, which has produced generational breakthroughs in families.
“When you’re working with youth, you’re giving them language, so then you’re teaching them, [and] their parents are learning language and how to respond and how to think about their own feelings,” she says. “So, I do think that in a lot of ways, youth are taking advantage of services. They could be our change makers, for sure, as it relates to mental health and treatment.”
While NAMI provides support to individuals and families, and the Black Mental Wellness Corp to organizations and schools, Dr. Walker’s book, “The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health” is an additional resource.
She says one of the most important takeaways from the book is supporting readers to “[meet] the family member wherever they are.”
Walker made it clear that you can’t force someone who needs mental health care to get it, but you can love them until they’re ready.
“Let that individual know that you love them and that you’re there for them, so that when they’re ready, they know who the non-judgy person is that they can go to and get help from,” she says.
As Turner put it, “stigma is not an orphan. She has a mother called ignorance.” Don’t miss your chance to get educated, folks. Learn more about free mental health care at NAMI, how to support loved ones in need, and how to care for your own mental health by listening to the recording here.