I am an African-American woman born and raised in Elizabeth, NJ. As I count down to graduating from my MSW program in May of 2014 I think back to the journey that led me here. Growing up I understood many of the issues that my family and other families within my urban community were facing, including mental health. While in college my younger brother was diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. It took my mother and family members by surprise, but we immediately began searching for services to assist him.
My mother and I learned how to navigate the social service system in order to become educated enough to find services to help my brother. During this process, we hit many roadblocks and had to make many sacrifices as we advocated for him, but we never gave up. Advocating for my brother has definitely shaped my passion of becoming a social worker. Specifically, I want to work with African-American families within urban environments that are raising children with mental health diagnoses.
As an African-American woman assisting my mother in raising a young son with a mental health disorder I am aware of the challenges my brother may face later in life as an African-American male with multiple diagnoses. My goal in social work is to bring awareness of mental health to the African-American community and educate people on the services that can assist families in need. Everyday I work hard to help dispel myths and increase this awareness and provide assistance to families within urban communities dealing with mental health disorders. There are a large number of children and families in urban communities that do not seek the needed mental health services or seek services at a lesser rate than they should.
How NAMI NJ Has Helped
I was referred to NAMI NJ after a long journey of searching for resources that would provide support to my brother and family. Being connected with AACT-NOW! (African American outreach program of NAMI NJ) was a blessing. My mother and I attended the AACT-NOW! conference and learned a wealth of information about mental health in relation to the African-American community. Just being in the presence of others who knew the different struggles that we have dealt with and that my brother may face later in life was comforting.
After joining NAMI NJ I decided to take the family-to-family course so that I could learn from a family members’ perspective how to help my brother deal with the nuances of his diagnoses. This also allowed me to again be around loved ones who were dealing with some of the same issues as my family. The family-to-family course was so impactful that I chose to become trained in teaching the course so that I can one-day pass along the invaluable lessons that my facilitators taught my class.
For the past few years I have been an active member of the AACT-NOW! Advisory Board. The goal of AACT-NOW! is to connect with NJ’s African-American families affected by mental illness, mental health consumers, the faith community and mental health professionals in order to provide culturally competent support, education and advocacy. As a person that has utilized and attended many of the resources and services that NAMI NJ provides I truly urge you to get involved. Awareness is such a key component in helping families affected by mental illness. In my journey I will continue to bring this awareness to the African-American community in efforts of reducing stigma and increasing effective services. I ask that you join me in this journey by supporting AACT-NOW!