UCF organization works to destigmatize mental health among minorities
Often treated as a taboo topic, mental health was the center for discussion for the Multicultural Student Center this past Wednesday.
MSC's “We Wear the Mask”aimed to tackle to negative stigmas associated with mental illness, especially those faced by minorities. According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, 25 percent of minorities seek mental health treatment compared with 40 percent of whites.
Growing up in a Haitian household, MSC Cultural Director Semline Delva says openly talking about mental health just wasn't on the agenda.
“We laughed and made jokes, but to sit down and talk about real issues, it was never an open space to do that,” the senior interdisciplinary studies major said. "It was just school, church and home. It wasn’t that section for family time as for talking about ‘Hey, how was your day?’ or ‘Who bullied you in school?’ It was never a space for that.”
Even on the other side of the equation, mental health is a delicate subject, as Tamalia Hanchell, a member of UCF's Counseling and Psychological Services clinical staff, learned first hand. Her career aspirations to work as a clinical psychologist grew ridicule because of the sensitive subjects she'd tackle. In her culture, she explained, the topic of mental health is something you avoid.
“A very common stigma is ‘It’s because you’re weak’ and ‘Why can’t you just deal with this? Other people can deal with these stressors,’ or ‘You’re weak, obviously there’s something wrong with you,’ and that’s not true," Hanchell said. "There’s a lot of things that go into having mental illness.”
She highlighted some factors that may contribute to an increased risk of mental illness, including genetics or even dramatic life changes everyone at UCF has experienced: starting college.
Associate professor Fernando Rivera, who works in the sociology department, pointed to the state of society as cause for the rift in mental illness perception, hitting on racism, discrimination and socioeconomic status.
“What’s the first thing that the media will tell you about mass shootings?" Rivera asked. “That we need to increase funding for mental illnesses or that we need to do background checks, when in reality there [are] bad people out there [without mental illnesses]."
Deeming non-minority criminals mentally ill and minority criminals as just bad people reinforces stereotypes, he added.
Mental health, he asserted, has become such a negative topic, that for some it’s not even considered a type of health care. In order for mental health to be treated properly in minority communities, he believes minorities must seek treatment no matter the societal views.
“We don’t have a health care system; we have a sick care system,” Rivera said. “When was the last time you went to the doctor when you were feeling great?”
If you or someone you know is debating whether they should seek treatment, Hanchell recommends pushing perceptions aside and getting help.
“Don’t diagnose yourself on the Internet,” she pleaded. “Of course, you are a professional in the sense that you know yourself better than anyone else, so you will be able to articulate to that therapist what’s going on. And then with their clinical expertise, they will then be able to help you and tell you the problem, as well as some treatment recommendations.”
For additional information about mental health and possible treatment, visit caps.sdes.ucf.edu or call 407-823-2811.
Shaquirah Jackson is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.