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In May 2008, the United States House of Representatives proclaimed July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, providing agencies with the opportunity to raise awareness about severe mental illness in diverse communities, while highlighting avenues for wellness and recovery.


Nearly one in five seniors has at least one mental health condition. Depression is the leading mental health problem among people over 65 years old. Yet seniors with depression are often untreated, for a range of reasons. In some cases, the condition is overlooked by family members, caregivers and doctors. But more often, the seniors do not recognize the symptoms and are hesitant to tell anyone how they are feeling.


Mental illness is a leading cause of disability, yet nearly two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment. African Americans are even less likely to get help. They are also less likely to receive a diagnosis and treatment for their mental health condition, have less access to and availability of mental health services, and often receive poor quality mental health care.

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is another category of mental health that is impacting more seniors every day. One in three seniors will die from dementia. African American seniors have two to three times the risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias as whites.


Did you know that:


     * 23% of African American seniors have had at least one mental health condition in their lifetime.

     * More than 10% of African American seniors have had two or more mental health conditions in their lifetime.

     * Alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD), and major depression are the most prevalent lifetime conditions among African

     American seniors.

     * African Americans bear a greater burden from unmet mental health needs and as a result, suffer a greater loss to their overall health and


     * In 2009, the death rate from suicide for African American men age 65 and older was almost ten times that for African American women of

     the same age.

     * Only 2% of psychiatrists, 2% of psychologists and 4% of social workers in the U.S. are African American.

     * African American seniors most at risk for a mental health condition are between the ages of 55 and 64 years old, male, have low income

     and low levels of education.

     * Mental health issues are frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in African American communities.

     * Symptoms of a mental health condition can appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other

     unexplained aches and pains.

     * Mental illness is not a personal weakness.

     * The stigma associated with mental health issues make it very difficult for African Americans to acknowledge a mental health problem or

     seek treatment.


Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions:

Signs and symptoms of mental health issues can vary, depending on the particular condition, circumstances and even culture. Symptoms of a mental health condition can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Here are a few examples of signs and symptoms:


     * Feeling sad or down

     * Confused thinking or difficulty concentrating

     * Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt

     * Extreme mood changes of highs and lows

     * Withdrawal from friends, relatives and activities

     * Feeling extremely tired, low energy or problems sleeping

     * Paranoia or hallucinations

     * Difficulty coping with daily problems or stress

     * Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people

     * Alcohol or drug abuse

     * Major changes in eating habits

     * Sex drive changes

     * Excessive anger, hostility or violence

     * Suicidal thinking


When to see a doctor:


If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental health condition, see your primary care physician or mental health provider, such as a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. Most mental health issues don't improve on their own, and if untreated, may get worse over time and cause serious problems and even lead to suicide.


Helping a loved one:


If a friend or family member show signs of a mental health issue, have an open and honest discussion with them about your concerns. You cannot force someone to get professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified mental health provider and make an appointment. You may even be able to go along to the appointment.


Are you at risk for a mental health condition?


There are tools that can help you understand more about your mental health. To screen for depression, anxiety, bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), click on the link below. You can take all four screening tests and discuss the results with your primary care physician or mental health care provider.


Dr. Karen Lincoln discusses mental health in African American communities


Click on the link below to watch an interview with Dr. Karen D. Lincoln on ExhaleTV as she discusses mental health in African American communities:


Mental Health Advocacy


The Positive Aging Act (S.1119) is designed to improve the accessibility and quality of mental health services for older adults. The bill would provide mental health screenings, appropriate referrals for follow-up care and consultations, and the use of available evidence-based (current best evidence) guidelines for common mental disorders. In addition, grants for community-based mental health treatment outreach teams would be available to provide services in primary health care facilities where older adults receive medical treatments, as well as adult day care centers, senior centers, assisted living facilities and other settings where older adults reside or receive social services.


Support the Positive Aging Act by sending letters to Congress. It’s easy! Just click on the link below, enter your zip code, and send the letter. You also have the option of editing the letter to add your personal thoughts:




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