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FunTimes Magazine

The Evolution of Mental Health and the Process of Normalization in Society

Oct 10, 2021 11:30AM ● By Anand Subramanian
Black woman and Black man both placing hands on the man head from both sides

Generally, Black and African American individuals in America have mental health problems at the same or higher rate as White Americans. Historically, Black and African American experiences in America have been and remain marked by physical and emotional abuse more frequently than for their White counterparts, affecting both kids' and adults' emotional and mental health. The Black community has made important contributions to the ongoing struggle for social, racial, and economic justice; nevertheless, real social justice in the Black community will remain elusive until mental health disparities in this group are addressed. Mental health is an important component of total physical and emotional well-being, and we will explore the history of mental health, its progression into the present day, and how we should mainstream the discourse about mental health in the community in this article.

Figure 1 - Visual Representation of Depression. Source - Pexel


Ancient views regarding mental illness were frequently based on beliefs that the unusual symptoms were caused by supernatural forces such as demonic possession, curses, magic, or a wrath deity. As a result, remedies ranged from the magical to the harsh. Trephining, the technique of boring a hole into the skull with primitive stone implements, was discovered in anthropological findings going back to 5000 BCE. In the Neolithic age, people thought that creating a hole in the skull would enable the evil spirit (or spirits) that inhabited the heads of the mentally sick to be freed, thereby relieving them of their condition. When violence was not employed, priest-doctors would use religious and superstitious rites because they thought that demonic possession was the cause of mental disorders. Prayer, repentance, exorcisms, mantras, and other tribal manifestations of spirituality are examples of such rituals. However, if ceremonial techniques failed to change a tribe member's conduct, shamans would turn to threats, bribes, and even punishment.

Figure 2 - Visual Representation of Trephining. Source - Google

Mental illness has existed for as long as humans have occupied the planet, however, among persons of African origin, there are little or no references to this disease before the 1700s. In 1848, John Galt, a physician and the medical director of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum in Williamsburg, Virginia, proposed that "Blacks are resistant to mental disease." He said that because enslaved Africans did not own land, engage in trade, or partake in civic matters like voting or holding public office, they could not acquire the mental disease. According to Galt and others at the time, this immunity theory predicted that the danger of "lunacy" would be highest in groups that were emotionally exposed to the stress of profit-making, namely affluent White men. Dr. Benjamin Rush was the most notable medical practitioner to take issue with John Galt's concepts about the absence of mental disorders among Black slaves, writing that many of the enslaved suffered from "abnormal behaviors" such as "negritude," which he defined as Blacks' irrational desire to become White. Rush advocated against marrying between races to ensure that negritude did not spread beyond the Black community since becoming White could only be done via miscegenation. Even though there was no evidence that he had treated anybody for this condition, he stated in his works that "the Africans become demented shortly after they start into the toils of eternal servitude." Throughout the South, approximately four million enslaved people were released as a result of the Civil War. It did not, however, result in more enlightened views toward the care of African Americans suffering from mental illnesses. Dr. T.O. Powell, the administrator of the Georgia Lunatic Asylum, saw an alarming increase in insanity among Blacks in his state in 1895, which he attributed to three decades of freedom. Powell contended that as former slaves gained their freedom, they lost control of their appetites and emotions, leading to excesses and vices, which in turn led to an increase in insanity. Powell, like previous medical professionals, did not consider socioeconomic factors like as poverty, racial prejudice, and the ever-present threat of violence, including lynching, to play any part in the mental health of these liberated individuals.

African Americans who were thought to have mental impairments confronted a new, more severe threat to their well-being at the turn of the twentieth century: the eugenics movement. Eugenics was founded on two simultaneous principles: encouraging births among those with "excellent" genetic stock and sterilizing persons judged unsuitable for reproduction, such as those with mental illnesses, the impoverished, and those accused of sexual promiscuity and sexual crime. African Americans were immediately targeted for sterilization in the United States. In California alone, African Americans, who made only 1% of the population, accounted for 4% of the victims of legal sterilization in the 1930s. In North Carolina, more than 85 percent of those legally sterilized were Black women in the 1960s.

Figure 3 - Visual Representation of Therapy Sessions. Source - Pexel

For decades, the medical field's historical traumatization of the Black population has stymied mental health development. Given that the Black community now lives at the crossroads of racism, classism, and health inequality, their mental health needs are frequently aggravated and generally unsatisfied. Even in the twenty-first century, Black people are subjected to tyranny, terrorism, and prejudice. These problems cannot be ignored as underlying reasons for the increasing frequency of African American suicides. According to research, the adult Black community is 20% more likely to suffer from significant mental health issues such as major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. Furthermore, as compared to White emerging adults and older Black people, Black emerging adults (ages 18-25) had greater rates of mental health issues and lower rates of mental health treatment usage. Alcohol consumption, smoking (both tobacco and marijuana), illegal drug use, and pharmaceutical pain medication abuse are more common in Black and African American individuals with mental disorders. Because less than 2% of American Psychological Association members are Black or African American, some may be concerned that mental health professionals are not culturally competent enough to address their unique concerns. Black and African American persons are discouraged from getting treatment for mental disorders due to stigma and criticism. According to studies, Blacks and African Americans feel that minor depression or anxiety would be seen as "mad" in their social circles. Furthermore, many people think that discussing mental illness with family members is inappropriate.

According to the literature, African Americans are considerably more likely to rely on their faith as a coping technique for dealing with depression and anxiety than they are to seek help from a mental health expert. According to one study, 90.4 percent of African Americans utilize religious coping to deal with mental health concerns. This is hardly unexpected when one considers the African American Church's longstanding role. There has always been a link between African Americans' mental well-being and their spirituality. There has always been a meeting point between faith and liberty. Faith was what kept the African ancestors surviving under enslavement. Faith has been seen as the key to unlocking the shackles, whether it be in terms of physical enslavement, spiritual enslavement, or mental enslavement. Within the African American community, it was common to believe that prayer, no matter how severe the load, was the answer. African American religious leaders also play an essential role in informing the community about issues that are relevant to Black and brown people. People have always looked to their religious leaders for political advice and to serve as a spokesman when their communities needed a champion. Religion leaders must be prepared to respond properly to the community's shortage of mental health services while also reducing obstacles to care. It is critical to educate church leaders on mental health, ensuring that they realize that mental health issues are just as real (and prevalent) as physical health conditions and that numerous families in church congregations are likely to be facing mental health challenges. While educating themselves, religious leaders should look for ways to collaborate and engage with community mental health practitioners to give education, therapies, and congregations about mental health, as well as include mental health during health fairs. With such methods, the growth and normalization of mental health in society will move at a rapid pace.

Figure 4 - Normalization of Mental health conversation in Church. Source - Pexel

Everyone is concerned about their mental health these days, as they are dealing with a variety of changes and emotions. According to a study, about half of all Americans believe the Coronavirus is harming their mental health. However, the situation of the world has helped to mainstream discussions about mental health, with even government leaders advising individuals to take care of their mental health. This shared concern is dispelling worries of discrimination and, ideally, laying the groundwork for long-term change for individuals. For long-term transformation, it is critical to raise awareness of mental health and the normalization process in society. To begin, it is critical to recognize that everyone's sentiments are normal and that people talk about them. According to research, suppressing one's emotions might have a detrimental influence on one's immune system. Talking about how they are feeling is not only beneficial for their head, but it's also excellent for their body. Many of them have been working remotely for some months and are expected to continue to do so. Maintaining a routine is essential to one's well-being. Receiving plenty of rest, eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet, and getting lots of physical activity and fresh air should all be part of the routine. As mental health discussions have become an accepted part of society, it is critical to integrate them into the workplace. To do so, workers can question their boss or the HR department if the firm has mental health initiatives in place. If there aren't any, emphasize the importance and use of these systems. If your employer isn't initially open to the concept, gather other employees to ask for it. When it comes to mental health, contemporary times have produced a wide range of misconceptions. When a tale, a joke, or a term regarding mental health is stigmatized, it is critical to call it out. The only way to get from disinformation to actual information is to approach it softly and respectfully. Explain how the evidence demonstrates that a certain impression is incorrect.

Facts highlight the difficulties of treating mental disorders. Where incantations and brain surgery failed, pharmacological therapy and psychotherapy took up the treatment baton for the twenty-first century, assisting millions of individuals in achieving health and recovery. This development, however, has come at a cost, with many thousands succumbing to addiction and sliding through the seams of the contemporary healthcare system. The obstacles show that appropriate mental health treatment will not be easy or uncomplicated, but the development and breakthroughs demonstrate that today's improvements are immensely better than anything that has gone before. So, as we enter a new age, let us ensure that mental health conversations and treatments become more accessible and simple.

Figure 5 - Mantra of Mental health progression. Source - Pexel

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

Read more from Anand Subramanian:

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