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Posted: July 9, 2017 5:00 a.m.

Newton County celebrates Minority Mental Health Month

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Butler-Houck

When speaking about wellness, oftentimes physical health is the first thing that comes to mind. This usually includes conversation with one’s primary care physician about the need to exercise, eat healthy, schedule annual physical checkups and get plenty of rest. However, another key aspect to one’s complete health and well-being includes mental wellness. Conversations about mental wellness are oftentimes more difficult to have, because within some communities mental health is stigmatized.

This stigma makes the topic of mental health even more difficult to discuss amongst minority groups. Health data has supported that health disparities have a significant impact on racial and ethnic minority subgroups. Minority groups, particularly African-Americans, may be reluctant to discuss mental health issues due to the shame and stigma associated with such conditions. Licensed Mental Health Specialist Asha Tarry echoes this sentiment as an attributing factor to the lower number of minorities seeking mental health support, along with other barriers including: lack of access or knowledge of available resources, transportation, and inadequate or lack of health insurance.

These barriers are substantiated by data specific to Newton County. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, the unemployment rate for African Americans or Blacks is 12.3 percent and Hispanics is 7.2 percent. Lack of employment often lends to lack of insurance as reflected in the fact that 15 percent of African Americans or Blacks were uninsured (data specific to Hispanic residents is unavailable). As suggested above, these barriers often lead to individuals not seeking care and the further development of untreated mental health issues.

13.2 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Black or African American. Of those who identify as Black or African-American, over 16 percent had a diagnosable mental illness in the past year. 17.4 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Latino or Hispanic. Of those who identify as Latino or Hispanic, over 15 percent had a diagnosable mental illness in the past year. These poor mental health outcomes are mirrored in Newton County with the average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in the last 30 days being 3.8. The data related to death by suicide paints an even more daunting picture for the county overall, the African American and Hispanic community, and adolescents. Between 2005 and 2015 the age adjusted death rate due to suicide in Newton County was 11.7 out of 100,000 or a total of 122 deaths. Of those 122 deaths, 21 were African American and 2 were Hispanic. This number may appear to be small. However, when you consider that African Americans comprise 41.3 percent of Newton County’s population and Hispanics make up 4.9 percent of the population, that number of deaths is more pronounced. During this same timeframe there were 5 deaths due to suicide for youth ages 15-19 years old; and 3 of those deaths were African Americans.

Fortunate for Newton County, there are resources that can specifically address mental health in the community at large and minorities specifically. Project AWARE – Newtonfocuses on increasing awareness of mental health issues among school-aged youth; reducing stigma of mental health; providing training for personnel and other adults who interact with youth in helping to detect and respond to mental health issues through Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) Trainings; and

connecting children, youth and families with support services to help aid in positive intervention. Newton County School System is one of three local education agencies (LEA) in Georgia, selected in partnership with the Georgia Department of Education. For more information or to schedule a YMHFA Training, please visit Project AWARE – Newton’s webpage at https://sites.google.com/newton.k12.ga.us/ncssprojectaware .

Additional resources include: ViewPoint Health QPR Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention (contact: Larry Evans at larry.evans@vphealth.org); National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Rockdale/Newton Monthly Family Support Group Meetings - 1st Monday of the Month: 7-8:30pm at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Conyers OR 3rd Monday of the Month: 7-8:30pm at First Presbyterian Church in Covington; and Georgia Crisis & Access Line (GCAL) can be reached at 800-715-4225 to assist in any mental health crisis needs.

Please remember that mental wellness is a component of one’s overall health. If you are struggling with any mental health needs or know of someone else in need of mental health supports, please seek treatment. There is no shame… your health depends on it.

Naran Butler-Houck is a Licensed Master Social Worker employed by Newton County School System, and serves as the Mental Health Clinician for Project AWARE - Newton.

Tara Echols, MBA, SSGBC is a champion of holistic public health, which includes protecting the physical and mental health of the population. She is the Director of the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Department’s Performance Management and Community Health programs.

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