Each July, cities across the U.S. observe National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in efforts to increase awareness about the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in America. 

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult for Blacks and other ethnic minority groups to receive access to mental health and substance-use treatment services.

Throughout the month, the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) will continue to focus on promoting tools and resources addressing the stigma about mental health among Blacks and other minority populations, which has been exacerbated because of the coronavirus pandemic. Further, OMH encourages community-based organizations, faith leaders, health care providers and individuals to educate their communities on the stigma associated with mental health stigma.

The logo for the Virginia-based Mind and Wellness Foundation, recently launched by the Vaughn family, whose son and brother, Christien, died by suicide after years of mental health challenges (Courtesy of Deneen Vaughn)

Within the Black community, the stigma surrounding suicide and the reluctance of many African Americans to seek mental health services often lead to tragic outcomes that could have been prevented. 

For one local family in Virginia, their worst nightmare occurred several years ago when Christien “Chris” Vaughn, 30, died by suicide. To honor Chris, who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and acute depression prior to his death, his parents and brothers recently launched the Mind and Wellness Foundation. 

Chris’s mother, Deneen Vaughn, said they created the foundation in efforts to eradicate stigma often associated with suicide and mental disorders and to provide more resources for youth. 

“We were aware of his diagnosis but like many with mental illness, Chris wasn’t always comfortable having open dialogue about the situation,” said Vaughn, co-founder and CEO, Mind and Wellness Foundation.  

“While our family is devastated with the passing of Christien, it’s a true honor and privilege to continue his legacy of love and light with the Mind and Wellness Foundation,” she said. “Your mental health is the catalyst of your overall well-being and should be taken as seriously as your physical health as they’re interconnected.”

Vaughn said the foundation remains committed to saving the lives of youth with a special emphasis on young people of color because of the mental health stigma that exists within minority communities. Through increased awareness, education, research and access to resources, the foundation hopes to change the conversation and narrative and develop a path for overall positive change towards mental health. 

The foundation’s work stems from four major pillars: nutrition, fitness/exercise, stress management and mind wellness. Tools and information related to each pillar can be found on the foundation’s website, www.mindandwellnessfoundation.org.

In addition, the foundation offers grants to help offset and/or cover therapy sessions with a licensed therapist, either in-person or virtually. 

Mayor Bowser Announces Launch of 988 Suicide, Crisis Lifeline 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) Director Dr. Barbara J. Bazron recently announced the District has joined other jurisdictions nationwide in launching the three-digit 988 suicide prevention or crisis services lifeline. 

Beginning July 16, anyone experiencing a mental health, substance use, or suicidal crisis will be able to dial 988 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will connect individuals to locally-operated crisis centers. In calling 988, individuals will be connected to compassionate and accessible care and support. Family and friends can also call 988 if they’re worried about a loved one who may need crisis support. 

“We are very focused on how we connect more residents to mental health care and that is especially critical for people who are in crisis,” Bowser said. “Just like people know 911, now we also want people to know and use the 988 lifeline. In calling 988, people can get connected to trained crisis counselors and lifesaving services – any time, day or night.”

Dr. Bazron said providing additional mental health has become even more critical during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  

“For individuals in crisis, particularly those who are thinking about suicide, having someone to call who will listen and provide support can make a difference and save lives,” Dr. Bazron said. “The pandemic has affected the mental health of all of us in some way and the 988 lifeline will give people timely access to treatment and support.” 

Besides the 988 lifeline, residents can also call 888-793-4357 if they’re feeling anxious or depressed or want to talk about their mental health in order to prevent a crisis.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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