The coronavirus pandemic has presented many inequities in America, but health professionals say mental health has been challenging and will remain a problem if not dealt with properly.

In conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Prince George’s County Council Vice Chair Deni Taveras hosted four forums with a focus on senior citizens, children and women and color.

Taveras (D-District 2) of Adelphi led a session Saturday, May 29 that dealt with men of color.

“This panel, compared to some of the other panels, is just so much more important and so relevant to the things that are happening in this day and age,” she said. “Not to say other issues aren’t as equally important, but I find that this is a particular issue that we need to hone in real deep.”

According to a January report a https://bit.ly/3c4wXHl from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the suicide rate among Black men in 2018 stood at 12.2%. Those in the age group of 25 to 44 ranked the highest at 19.5%.

In ranked nearly the same for Latino males at 12.1%, but the group of men ages 45 to 64 ranked the highest at 11.5%.

The Kaiser Family Foundation noted in state rankings at https://bit.ly/3uxZ6x, nearly 25% of adults nationwide in 2018-19 reported “any mental” or “serious mental” illness in the past year. Maryland’s percentage at 22.1% ranked 47th out of the 50 states and District of Columbia.

Kent Alford, director of behavioral health for Prince George’s with the University of Maryland Capital Region Health, said curing of societal ills such as police brutality, homelessness and drug and substance abuse can help eliminate mental health.

“All those things intersect and cause mental deterioration,” said Alford, one of the four people who spoke on the virtual discussion Saturday. “Unfortunately, until we get to the root of these kinds of social issues, these factors that cause the trauma will continue to occur.”

In addition to the lack of resources in the Black community, the panel said, seeking the right help also remains a problem.

Marcus Hughes, a resident in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Howard University Hospital, said about 2% of psychologists nationwide are Black and no more than 5% of social workers are Black.

“For individuals that even do make it to the point where they reach out and find their provider, what is the likelihood that provider will be culturally related to them…[with an] adequate level of empathy that’s necessary to treat someone…” he said. “All of these things need to be taken into account.”

Another question discussed focused on how to assess someone in need of mental health treatment.

Gebrehana Zebro, a psychiatrist who specializes in addictive medicine with Luminis Health in Annapolis, said some symptoms a youth or adult can show from changes in personality include low performance in school, change in physical appearance, avoid conversation and not eating.

Untreated, Zebro said a decrease in mental health could lead to depression, anxiety and possibly violence.

“These are really warning signs something is going wrong,” he said. “If a person has a mental illness, it is difficult to obtain anything.”

Charles Wiley, a council member in the town of North Brentwood who works as a behavioral specialist, said his uncle offered straightforward advice.

“Make sure you have your wits about you,” he said. “When you have to deal with situations, you’re able to think through it and process it appropriately.”

Some treatments to deal with mental illness are talking with a community support group, help from a licensed professional and even medication.

In the District, which ranked seventh in the nation in the Kaiser Foundation rankings at 27.7%, runs an online parent support group called “Wellness Wednesday” at https://dbh.dc.gov/service/parent-support-program.

Barbara Bazron, director of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health, said more than 1,000 parents have participated so far.

“We really have to mind our mental health every day, all year long,” she said Friday, May 28 during an interview on the Washington Informer’s WIN-TV program. “Mental wellness is a critical part of overall wellness.”

D.C. residents in need of mental health support can call a 24-hour hotline at 1-888-793-4357.

Prince George’s County residents can call this 24-hour hotline at 1-800-273-8225, or can go to  www.communitycrisis.org for more information on various services.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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