CWRU Opens Dialogue on African-Americans and Mental Illness

by April 9, 2012

Today, Case Western Reserve University hosts The Road to Renewal: Mental Health Forum with noted mental health advocate, Terri M. Williams, President and Founder of The Terrie Williams Agency and The Stay Strong Foundation, to address the devastating impact of undiagnosed and untreated mental illness has within the African-American community and to demystify the stigma associated with mental illness. Sponsored by the university’s Social Justice Institute and the School of Medicine’s Master of Public Health Program, the forum will educate the community on the importance of proper diagnosis and the availability of resources and organizations available to provide treatment for the disease.

“This is a critical health issue with which our mental health community has struggled. All too often depression and other mood symptoms are seen as just a part of life – and are especially under-recognized and under-treated in the African-American community – even if someone does ask for help,”Robert J. Ronis MD, MPH, Douglas Danford Bond Professor and chair of the department of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

Ms. Williams has written four successful books and countless articles on this sometimes taboo topic. Her latest work, the critically acclaimed book entitled Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting (Scribner 2008) reveals her personal struggles with depression and the impact the stigma of this and other mental illnesses have particularly on the African-American community. The conversation generated by Black Pain and her foundation’s creation of a national mental health advocacy campaign, “Healing Starts With Us,” led to a collaboration with Grey Worldwide, the volunteer advertising agency for the Ad Council’s and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Campaign for Mental Health Recovery. The campaign is titled, “Share Ourselves-Healing Starts With Us” ( and builds on the foundation’s work to break the silence about the stigma and shame related to mental health issues in the Black community.

“The minority community is in a mental health state of emergency – we are beyond the crisis stage,” says Terrie Williams. “Mental health issues aren’t really talked about in the Black community. It’s a taboo subject and really considered a sign of weakness. And because we are a faith-based people, to do anything other than to pray to God is a ‘betrayal.’ So instead, we try and mask our pain. We give the outward appearance that everything is fine, when the reality is you’re dying inside.”

The data on depression is as alarming as it is for economic depression. By 2020, the World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the second leading cause of death after heart disease; 14.8 million Americans over 18 suffer from depression any given year; African-Americans are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression and the least likely to get help; of those who suffer from depression, 15 percent will eventually commit suicide. There is direct correlation of those suffering with mental illness and the ability to lead a self-sustaining and productive life. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives; the economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.

“There is no doubt about it – structural injustices have contributed to psychic pain, physical illness, and societal distress,” said Rhonda Williams, PhD, director of Case Western Reserve’s Social Justice Institute and associate professor of history with specialization in African-American studies. “We see the devastating impacts in our communities every day. Silence is not the answer. We must deal with our fears, our anger, and the exploitation and marginalization that often generates and intensifies our suffering. The moment we begin to acknowledge this, learn how and where to get help, we can begin to strengthen our communities.”


About Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University is one of the country’s leading private research institutions. Located in Cleveland, we offer a unique combination of forward-thinking educational opportunities in an inspiring cultural setting. Our leading-edge faculty engage in teaching and research in a collaborative, hands-on environment. Our nationally recognized programs include arts and sciences, dental medicine, engineering, law, management, medicine, nursing and social work. About 4,200 undergraduate and 5,600 graduate students comprise our student body. Visit to see how Case Western Reserve thinks beyond the possible.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email