To talk about mental health is to understand it; to understand it is to remove the stigma; and to remove the stigma is to provide a safe space and support for those suffering. Thanks to global entertainers like Lady Gaga and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and world-class athletes like Kevin Love and Simone Biles, there’s already a shift toward candid public conversations, making mental health far less stigmatized than ever.
After a year of pandemic-fueled isolation — undoubtedly a primary factor in 42% of adults experiencing anxiety and depression, up 11% from previous years — educational institutions and businesses are making the mental wellbeing of their students and employees a priority. Still, less than half of all Americans with a mental disorder actually get the treatment they need.
For Black Americans, the statistics are even more sobering: They are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. The reasons for these discrepancies are deep-rooted, often spanning generations, and are the physical manifestations of lifetimes of abuse and inequality that have been baked into the fabric of America since its inception.
In advance of World Mental Health Day on October 10, this extra-special episode of Force Multiplier features honest conversations with Charlamagne Tha God, bestselling author and host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club, and Benjamin Perks, head of campaigns and advocacy in the Division of Global Communications at the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Charlamagne Tha God’s Life’s Work is Helping Black People Heal
Known for his outspoken, brutally honest rhetoric, Charlamagne Tha God has been using his platform to amplify the conversation around mental health in the Black community for years. As someone who suffered from anxiety and panic attacks his “whole life” as a result of unresolved trauma, it wasn’t until age 32, when a doctor put a name to it and diagnosed him with anxiety, that Charlamagne started to face his mental health head-on through therapy. With his celebrity status and visibility as host of one of the most popular syndicated radio shows in the country came an important platform from which to help close the mental health gap in the Black community.
“We’re probably the first generation of Black people who have the luxury of healing the generation before us. Our parents, they were scratching and surviving. Like, they were just trying to make it. They were too busy working and keeping a roof over our head to have time to deal with their mental and emotional issues,” he said in episode five of the Force Multiplier podcast.
So what does healing look like? It starts with destigmatizing the conversation, overcoming the perception that needing help makes you weak, and then actively seeking the support you need. “When we become a generation of people who really go out there and seek healing, I think we’ll see such a change in our communities, because I think there’s so many different things that can be directly attributed to unresolved trauma,” he said.
And although being a mental health advocate for the Black community wasn’t something he set out to do, he has fully embraced the role. “There’s a lot of different things that have happened over the past few years along my journey of healing, and that just makes me want to dedicate my life to helping Black people as my life’s work.”
That work starts with Charlamagne’s newest endeavor, the Mental Wealth Alliance (MWA). Launched in February 2021, MWA was created to destigmatize and center mental health care nationally, while also building long-term generational support for Black communities. The Alliance is built around the three pillars Charlamagne sees as most important: teach, train, treat. MWA partners with Black-led mental health organizations and experts, seeks to train more Black mental health professionals, and aims to raise $100 million over the next five years to cover the cost of mental health expenses that are often a barrier to seeking help.
UNICEF’s #OnMyMind Campaign Encourages Shame-Free Mental Health Discussions With Kids
Founded in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II, UNICEF has consistently worked to protect the rights and wellbeing of all children. Today, mental health is a strong component of the work the organization oversees in more than 190 countries. It’s easy to see why: One in seven American teens is estimated to have a mental health condition, and 76% of students say wellbeing is a top challenge.
UNICEF’s #OnMyMind campaign focuses on children worldwide and aims to eliminate mental health stigma by encouraging conversations that start at home.
Benjamin Perks, UNICEF’s head of campaigns and advocacy, has seen firsthand how mental illness comes from adverse childhood experiences. “I truly believe that if we could invest in strengthening parenting and helping parents who are affected by intergenerational transmission of trauma — if we can disrupt that cycle of transmission, then we can imagine a world where abuse and neglect is a thing of the past,” Perks told host Baratunde Thurston. “This could be the legacy of our generation, just in the same way that people who came before us left things like clean water, vaccines, and sanitation.”
UNICEF and the United Nations Children’s Fund are doing their part to make that legacy a reality with the new #OnMyMind campaign, which focuses on children worldwide and aims to eliminate mental health stigma by encouraging honest conversation that starts at home. UNICEF offers resources and guides for how to talk to infants and children of all ages about mental health. The new campaign spotlighting kids’ mental health comes at a crucial time, as the most recent global UNICEF report warns that children and young people could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and wellbeing for many years to come.
The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened inequalities in all aspects of child wellbeing, including mental health, as the closing of schools increased learning gaps, fractured teacher-student relationships, deprived children of adequate nutrition, and locked some kids in abusive homes. “The mental health and the overall wellbeing of children now returning to school is crucial,” says Perks. “At any given time, we all sit on the spectrum of mental health. And in 2021, it should be OK to talk about it without shame.”
Having those open and honest conversations is central to the #OnMyMind campaign. “If we can ensure that every child on the planet has this message and has this understanding of self — and if we can make sure that every society is able to ensure that every child is valued and every family member is able to talk about mental health — then this is going to be a real game changer.”
Listen to episode five of the Force Multiplier podcast.
Learn more about how you can start the mental health conversation with your kids using resources from UNICEF’s #OnMyMind campaign. And if you live in or near New York City, check out Charlamagne Tha God’s Mental Wealth Expo this Sunday, October 10 from 11 AM to 4 PM at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. The event is free and open to the public.
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