Mental health challenges affect millions of people of all ages. Yet, many people are too embarrassed to ask for help. /courtesy photo
Mental health challenges affect millions of people of all ages. Yet, many people are too embarrassed to ask for help. (Courtesy photo)

When I was a little boy, I remember there always being someone, like my cousin (his name will be withheld for his protection), a few aunts and uncles and even a couple of our neighbors, who my parents would refer to as “touched” — and I don’t mean touched by an angel.

It wasn’t uncommon for them to go up and down the streets shouting bizarre messages about doom and gloom or about someone who’d done them wrong. You could count on seeing these “touched” folks wearing wigs on backwards, sporting jackets that should have long been donated to the local shelter or holding and sipping on a 40-ounce bottle of the cheapest beer they could find.

Somehow, these unfortunate victims of mental disorders managed to survive, mainly because we looked out for them, wrapped our arms around them in the midst of their confusion and acted, as best we could, that what they did or said were normal. At least, my parents instructed me to treat them and to view these infrequent outbursts as things that just happened — things that should cause me no alarm.

Looking back at those situations, I realize that what was really needed if we wanted to truly help our friends and relatives, was mental healthcare. In those days, Blacks didn’t talk about going to see a therapist, a psychologist or a psychiatrist. In fact, I distinctly remember some of my elders saying those kinds of doctors were “for white people.” And you know what? I believed them — then.

But now, with one man entering a Tennessee Waffle House and shooting innocent people for no apparent reason, with another man in Toronto driving down a popular thoroughfare striking pedestrians as if they were bowling pins, not to mention previous examples of the mentally-deranged expressing their confusion in Las Vegas and Orlando, it’s  clear that America has a real problem with insufficient care for those with mental illnesses.

Ironically, as I recall, it was Ronald Reagan who closed down many of the country’s institutions that had provided help, comfort and care for the mentally ill. Reagan would one day fall victim to Alzheimer’s disease — itself a form of mental illness that erodes one’s memories, one abilities to function, until the person that remains is but a shell of their former self.

Now, those who have nowhere to go for help, wander the streets of America. They purchase guns and kill innocent men, women and children. They sit behind the wheel of their vehicle, put the pedal to the metal and use their vehicle like a battering ram — leaving no one standing in their wake.

My summation — they aren’t the crazy ones, we are. We’re crazy because we know that our communities are peppered with those suffering from mental illnesses and disorders and we pretend there’s nothing wrong. What’s wrong with that picture? Everything!!

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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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