A few weeks ago, I attended a church service that was comparable to nearly any other Sunday service I have attended; however, this particular day I was fortunate enough to be able to recognize the way that misinformation can be manifest and spread within a community setting. Often when discussing mental health, the notion that a one size fits all approach would be the best way to address challenges. The failure to take into consideration numerous variables can not only lead to categorical fallacies, but can also exacerbate preexistent challenges. Bad information can both be damaging and curb help seeking behavior.
This particular service took place in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago, which possesses a reputation for being a tough place. Despite this reputation, however, I have discovered that the community’s hardships do not define the neighborhood and that love is omnipresent. In contrast to the conditions outside, within the church, a certain majesty was evident. The church provided a cornucopia of shapes, colors, and sounds, beautiful stain glassed windows, parishioners, dressed in colorful suits and dresses, with many of the women in the church being adorned by hats that could rival many of the nation’s most eloquent skyscrapers. As the sermon was beginning, the choir sang generational hymns, its members’ voices ebbing and flowing to the tempo of musical instruments.
The organ, almost as if exhuming the congregation’s weeklong angst, frustrations, and torments, played in plaintive tones. As the choir sang, the instruments provided a call and response amongst themselves, many of the parishioners rushing throughout the aisle and across the pews yelling, dancing, and praising their Lord, teary- eyed, gasping for breath, and reaching for the high heavens. During this revelry, children of all ages were present, a few asleep, resting their heads on their mothers’ bosoms’ or slumbering on the pew seats, while some were totally oblivious to the cacophony swirling around them, enthralled with their videogames, or preoccupied with their church playmates. The pastor eventually began a traditional African-American sermons. As the choir and musicians quieted down, he sparked up a fire and brimstone speech, periodically moaning and singing, his voice ebbing and flowing to tug on the emotions of the parishioners. Almost on cue, a young child would wail, almost as if to emphasize the point the preacher was trying to convey. Then I saw them, a young woman and her daughter, who were both having difficulty sitting still. I felt almost as if I everyone was oblivious to these two people who appeared throughout the sermon to exert a battle of wills, as the mother would rough house the little girl, telling her to “shut up” and “be quiet,” noting how badly she was behaving, while the little girl appeared to become more set in exercising her right to be comfortable. Eventually, an older parishioner followed my gaze, and saw the bewilderment on my face, eventually nudging me, and telling me it’s a shame what “crack” has done to both the child and the mother. Granted, I do not know if crack cocaine or any other substance led to this parent child squall, but what I do recognize is how mental health illiteracy can have a looming impact on perception, tolerance, and the desire to seek help for children.
“Mental health illiteracy” is a term that I have developed to help describe what it is like to have a peripheral understanding of psychopathology, without having a grasp upon a more in-depth conceptualization. What promotes mental health care illiteracy is the existence of mental health deserts. Recently, the mayor of Chicago closed over 10 neighborhood mental health clinics, which subsequently, forced people who would normally receive services, to fend for themselves. Mental health deserts demonstrate the paucity of mental health resources in certain communities. Without mental health clinics, hospitals, and places where individuals can receive therapy, the harm is not necessarily in the absence of facilities, but the absence of anyone to stifle the dissemination of wrong information. This is particularly important when dealing with groups of people who do not readily seek mental health services. All and all, it is important for programs like the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (LEND) Interdisciplinary Training Program to continue to serve a lighthouse in the wake of a sea of misinformation and lack of resources.