Posted by Guest Blogger: Amaris Watson, MSW, LGSW
Courage. Acceptance. Perseverance. Hope.
I was recently reviewing online content regarding stories of triumph for those suffering from a mental illness and came across this story in the Washington Post. Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/cool-disco-dan-opens-up-about-his-battle-with-mental-illness/2013/10/28/e81bef10-3da2-11e3-b7ba-503fb5822c3e_story.html
Almost one year ago, Danny Hogg (also known as Cool “Disco” Dan) achieved virtue and notoriety after sharing his battle with mental illness to his community and ultimately the world. Cool “Disco” Dan, one of Washington, DC’s most well known, artistic icons admitted to being diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and personality disorder all of which caused great strife in his life.
To help cope with his mental illness, Hogg admitted to regularly seeking mental health treatment to prevent outbursts of rage. This is remarkable as we know African American males are less likely to utilize services. According to work by Dr. Michael Lindsey (NYU Faculty Profile: http://socialwork.nyu.edu/our-faculty/full-time/michael-lindsey.html), Black males are less likely to admit emotional struggles and experience internalized struggles regarding mental illness and treatment services. They see treatment use as a sign of weakness. According to a 2012 article by Lindsey and Dr. Arik Marcell, published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, Black males fear the stigma that comes with a diagnosis. Lindsey and Marcell also note that cultural mistrust of providers, lack of access to and negative perceptions towards mental health services also serve as barriers to black males participating in mental health treatment. Such was the case with Hogg. But, he overcame those barriers to care. In addition to seeking mental health treatment, Hogg also exercises and watches television to help relieve symptoms.
To the untrained eye, a person with schizophrenia can appear “crazy” because they may engage in “bizarre” behaviors. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition – DSM-5, persons with schizophrenia may experience delusions and hallucinations, experience disorganized thinking and catatonic behavior. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by an extreme change of emotions. The individual may experience a continuum of feeling joyous and deep distress over the same period of time. Lastly, a personality disorder represents a continuity of behavior, which deviates from the expectations of one’s culture. They may include but are not limited to patterns of instability, impulsivity, social inhibition and detachment from social relationships. As you can imagine, such behaviors if not properly treated can have a devastating impact on the development and maintenance of relationships.
Each of these mental disorders can elicit major changes in a person’s thoughts, moods and behaviors. Any form of mental illness may make it quite challenging for an individual to interact with others and deal with the constant changes and demands of life. Lack of understanding of these mental illnesses causes many to fear, mistreat, or in Hogg’s case, shy away from those suffering from a mental disorder. This is disheartening. To help combat this, mental health professionals should passionately collaborate to produce impactful mental health education materials, interventions and strategies that will provide knowledge regarding symptoms and the various forms of expression portrayed by mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Such education and work with family members can ensure that those who need mental health treatment get to it and stay connected.
Here are five things you can do to help the Hogg (“Cool Disco Dan”) in your life:
- Take a non-judgmental approach when conversing about recent problems or behaviors
- Offer emotional support by letting your loved one know you care
- Become educated about the signs and symptoms of mental illness (Here’s a helpful site: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml)
- Encourage your loved one to visit a mental health professional
- Offer a ride, provide child care or even accompany your loved one to sessions
Amaris Watson is a 2014 graduate of the University of Maryland’s Master of Social Work program. Amaris’ passion lies with helping underserved adolescents and their families both identify their mental health needs and seek treatment services. She is a research assistant on the Making Connections Project, led by New York University Silver School of Social Work Associate Professor, Dr. Michael A. Lindsey. Amaris plans to pursue a PhD in Social Work to continue her research in the area of mental health service delivery to ethnic minority adolescents. Her contact email is: firstname.lastname@example.org