The outpouring of social media support for popular recording artist, Kid Cudi’s recent acknowledgment of his mental health problems is the latest sign that more needs to be done to understand and support our young black men, who are more likely to delay getting help*.
We were also all moved when popular presenter, June Sarpong broke down on television while talking about the tragic death of her brother who reportedly jumped off a bridge last year. Sam Sarpong, a successful model and TV presenter, seemingly lived a happy life. June said:
“It was a moment of madness, something just went off and he lost complete control of his mind.”
In recognition of World Mental Health Day 2016, 10 October, Melanmag.com contributor, Debbie Best talks about her heart-breaking experience of being a mum to a son who is struggling with mental health issues.
June Sarpong and her brother, Sam Sarpong
My son had always been a very caring, giving person with a good heart and a loving nature. Although he met all his milestones, he struggled academically in school and we found out that he has dyslexia. I’m proud of the fact that we have always had a positive relationship, able to speak openly on a variety of subjects and have differences of opinions without falling out.
At 17 he left home, wanting to spread his wings, thinking the grass was greener on the other side. Like a lot of teenagers, he wanted his freedom. He would visit often though, at least a few times a week, to do some laundry and have some home comforts. He started experiencing mental health issues in 2009 when he was 19. We rallied round and dealt with it as a family. Initially, I thought it was just a case of him being slightly paranoid about the way he viewed certain things. We would discuss and try to make sense of his reality. We didn’t realise how bad his symptoms were. His fleeting visits meant that we were not with him long enough to see how bad things were. He was able to mask his systems from his loved ones. Something people with mental health often do.
The turning point came in April 2010. He had popped in to see us on one of his visits but this time I realised that something wasn’t quite right. I knew I had to seek professional support for my son. It was a tough decision, particularly around my own personal awareness of the number of young black men who were mis-diagnosed with Schizophrenia. But I was convinced that we needed to seek help.
I gently explained to my son that some of the things he was expressing were not rational and that we would like him to see a doctor. I say gently not because I was afraid of him, but because I was worried that he would disagree with me and leave the house. Fortunately, he agreed and we took him to A&E that night and he was admitted as an informal patient.
That was the beginning. Since then, he has been diagnosed with dual diagnosis (a term to describe people who have severe mental health problems), drug induced psychosis (which started when he began smoking Skunk) and personality disorder. A BBC 3 documentary Being Black, Going Crazy?, which aired in September 2016, states that you are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental health condition if you are a black man in Britain, and six times more likely than a white man to be an inpatient in a mental health unit.
The programme also highlighted that 85% of gang members had a personality disorder. It’s also important to remember the many young black boys who are not in gangs who suffer from personality disorders. Many issues could cause their disorders, from trying to deal with the stresses of the harsh environment they live in as well as the pressure of not being affiliated to gangs, my son falls into this category. I know this because I worked in a service where intelligence was able to confirm this. Although he did associate with friends who were affiliated with gangs, I personally feel that he adopted a particular personality to fit in to protect himself. He wore this mask often. I think at some point though the mask must have slipped. To his detriment, it eventually resulted in him being attacked on several occasions, with people using him as way to gain notoriety within the community.
My son has been in and out of hospital both informally and detained under Section 2 and 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA). Presently, he is being held long term under Section 3 of the MHA. In addition to his mental health issues, he has also been self-medicating, trying to use class A drugs to suppress his symptoms. He is currently in denial about having mental health issues or that he even has a drug problem. He believes that his drug-taking makes everything better, making his journey even more difficult. He also blames me for him being in hospital!
But he is where he needs to be. While he was out in the community, I lived in a perpetual state of anxiety. Every time I heard a helicopter or siren, I wondered if he was at the bottom of it and would frantically try to find him to check that he was safe or rush over to his flat to see if he was okay. I got used to being called to the police station with regard to him, at least two to three times a month.
I am so grateful for all the support from services, as well as from family and friends. The hardest part of this journey as a mother is that I have lost my son, and the relationship I had with him. I grieve for him every day and although from time to time I get glimpses of the person he used to be, it breaks my heart to see him so confused, scared, vulnerable.
At one point his mental health symptoms got so bad that I thought that I had completely lost him and thought he was at the point of no return. I am not even going to try and justify my next disclosure, I can openly own it! I thought that he would be better off dead, because he would no longer be in pain and suffering or trapped within his own reality. He once described his mind as being stuck in a world that doesn’t exist.
It’s been a tough journey, much more painful than I am able to express, but I will never give up on my son, I love him unconditionally and although I am not religious, I pray for peace and strength to fight another day.
* Suggested advice lines and support services:
- Mind – offer a variety of support i.e. carer networks
- Rethink – online info around Mental Health * Carers Network – offer advice, training and small grants
- Contact your borough’s Mental Health Team for mental health training and awareness
Featured Image Credits: Kid Cudi (Jaime Rivera) – CC BY 2.0; Featured Image: www.123rf.com