Now I Understand
Jayvion – North Carolina

Mental illness is a serious issue that a lot of people suffer from. Statistics show that Black people suffer the most than any other race. Approximately 14% of the U.S. population identify as either Black or African-American and over 16% of that group has been diagnosed with a mental illness in the past year. According to those statistics, almost seven million Blacks/African-Americans are diagnosed with some form of mental illness. These numbers may come from racism, negative stereotypes, attitudes of rejection, and even living below the poverty lines. Also, a high percentage of the Black population are incarcerated with an even larger percentage suffering from substance abuse, which puts them at a higher risk for poor mental health. The rates of attempted suicide are higher amongst Black young adults than White young adults, but the Black group is less likely to die from the attempt. Most Black people fail to seek treatment or even talk about their mental illness because of the stigma that is associated with having a diagnosis. I am one of the many Black young adults who has tried to hide my mental illness mainly because I never really understood it and I never really knew that there are millions of people fighting the daily battle just like me. The “Speaking Up About Mental Health! This Is My Story” Challenge is a platform for me to share my story, give a voice to mental health issues, and explain how I would like to focus on mental health awareness within my community. Here is my story.

Around the fifth grade, I was suspended numerous times. My mom couldn’t figure out where my negative behavior was coming from. The disruptive behaviors continued and by the time I reached the 10th suspension, my school was fed up with me. They decided to put me on a behavior plan and to help me seek some form of treatment. I was referred to a therapist and I had a neurological test performed. I was prescribed medication and during this time I was told that I was being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). I didn’t know what any of this meant and no one explained anything to me. I just proceeded with taking meds without really knowing how the disorders were affecting my life. I started having suicidal thoughts even to the point when I actually took six pills and tried to kill myself. I became involved in various types of criminal activity and also was abusing drugs. It wasn’t until I became an adjudicated juvenile offender and incarcerated at a Youth Development Center that I learned the real meaning of my mental illness and that possibly my mental illness played a part in me turning to a life of crime and substance abuse. Before I was incarcerated, I smoked weed to control my emotions, which led to giving every situation a terrible reaction. One of my teachers gave me information about all of my disorders along with an article to read on Cannabis use and mental illness. Now it all made sense. I now realize that my mental illness brought a lot of pain to so many and that having several diagnoses dramatically affected the decisions I made in my life. Now that I understand a little more about the symptoms of my disorders, such as depression, mood swings, uncontrollable anger and the urge to abuse substances, I can talk about it more with my therapist and use anger management strategies and coping techniques such as working out, writing songs, and listening to music, to help me adjust.

As I reflected on my situation, I wanted to research about the relationship of mental illness and the juvenile offender population. I found out that mental illness affects many juvenile offenders. Juveniles committing crimes mostly do so because they are depressed and want to be happy. Sometimes they commit criminal acts because of lack of anger control and adrenaline rushes. Most of the mental health issues go untreated and they don’t think about talking to a family member, friend, or a professional. As I talk to my peers who are incarcerated here with me, with over 77% of them being Black males, I have discovered that many of them suffer from some of the same mental health and substance abuse issues as I do. I realized that some have the symptoms and have not been diagnosed and some have been diagnosed, but are unaware of what their disorder is all about. I want to be able to bring about an awareness to mental illness and the positive aspects of understanding their situations and seeking treatment.

My teacher, Dr. C, who helped me to understand my mental health issues worked with me to come up with a way to bring mental health awareness to the Youth Development Center and then later to the local community. We decided to first conduct a mental health quiz to the 106 juvenile offenders here at the Youth Development Center, using Survey Monkey, analyze the results and then compile the findings in a report to be distributed throughout the campus. The purpose of this quiz is to identify the overall awareness of mental health issues from my peers. I have selected 10 questions from a quiz that is already established by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Florida. The second way I am going to spread awareness about mental illness is through the creation of a mental health self-inventory. I have developed the questions that are more specific to Bipolar Disorder, which was one of my diagnosed illnesses. This self- inventory is going to be utilized in a smaller setting. My teacher, Dr. C is the director of the Boys II Men Male Empowerment Program, here at the facility, and she has invited me to speak to the participant group during “Health and Wellness” Week, in July. I will give the inventory to my peers to complete and keep for their personal records and then discuss what it means to have a mental illness, the stigmas associated with it, and how it is ok to talk to someone about it or to seek treatment. In the future, I would like for the mental health quiz and the self-inventory to be used at all of the Youth Development Centers in my state to spread mental health awareness. The “Speaking Up About Mental Health! This Is My Story” Challenge has given me a great opportunity to share my story and to identify a solution to helping other juvenile offenders understand their diagnosis and to overcome the stigmas associated with seeking help. Now that I understand the importance of controlling my mental health issues through coping techniques, therapy, and by just being open, I can spread my knowledge by reaching the juvenile offender population across the state.