By Ericka Blount Danois
They’re crying out for help. But will anyone listen?
They are African-American men, struggling with mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder—many are veterans, but many more are civilians struggling in secret, ashamed.
These are men like 26-year-old James Brown. Brown served two tours in Iraq. When he returned home he was diagnosed with PTSD. He ended up going to jail for a court-appointed sentence in 2012 in El Paso, Texas. That’s where several guards reportedly detained him in riot gear and forced him to the ground. He began bleeding through the ears, nose and mouth and his kidneys shut down. According to media reports, the guards did not order medical attention for him. He went into the jail on a Friday. By Sunday, he was dead.
Brown’s case, which is still pending investigation, points to many issues surrounding PTSD, the criminalization of mental health as it relates to black communities and disparities in treatment. PTSD severely affects people’s chances of gaining and maintaining steady employment. According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, on any given night, nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless and roughly 40 percent of those homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic.
“It wasn’t until 1979, that PTSD became a legitimate mental health diagnosis,” Ron Armstead tells The Root. Armstead works with the Black Caucus Veterans Brain Trust to level disparities for black veterans. “Prior to 1979, there were problems targeting PTSD as a legitimate diagnosis. There still isn’t a silver bullet treatment for it. But there are a variety of treatment modalities that people are using.”
The issues surrounding PTSD and diagnosis are compounded by health disparities in African-American communities. Many African-American men are reluctant to go to the doctor because of misdiagnosis or mistreatment. There is also the perceived weakness surrounding asking for help for men. Armstead says many men may not see PTSD as something for which one even go to the doctor.