By Jenise Griffin

The facts are troubling. One in five adults are diagnosed with a mental health condition. That’s over 46 million people. Of the 46 million, more than half do not receive treatment.

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Suicide is now the No. 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It’s also the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24.

“Mental health looks like me, mental health looks like you,’’ said Dr. Vashaun Wllliams, a Tampa Bay psychiatrist, who shared these statistics and how to identify mental illness at “A Dining Room of Hope’’ banquet presented by Aaron’s House. The organization is referred to as a safe haven for parents and caregivers of loved ones living with bipolar and depression.

The May 5 event, held annually during Mental Health Awareness Month at the Rusty Pelican restaurant in Tampa, is a fundraiser for the non-profit Aaron’s House, which provides temporary housing for family members who have a loved one diagnosed with a mental illness.

Psychiatrist: Seek help

Williams, one of the speakers at the fourth annual banquet, urged the nearly 200 attendees to be supportive of those dealing with a mental health condition, and to seek help immediately if a loved one is in a crisis situation.

“You want to seek help promptly. Treatment is available,’’ said Williams, a health provider with Gracepoint Wellness Mental Health Center and in his private practice, Reaching Maximum Potential.

That help is available for the patient as well as family members.

Helping hundreds

It’s a message that Tampa Attorney Pamela Robinson, founder and executive director, stresses through her work at Aaron’s House.

“We’re helping 12 to 15 families from funds raised during our events. This does not include the hundreds of people that call in throughout the year seeking advice and inquiring about various resources,” she told the Florida Courier.

Honoring son

Education about mental illness is one of the key components to Aaron’s House, she noted.

“We celebrate mental health awareness one month out of the year. But caregivers deal with these conditions on a daily basis. It is essential that caregivers and others understand the signs of mental illness faster, and are on top of the different types of illnesses so that they can work toward more efficient treatment protocols and be on top of the newest treatment trends and medications,’’ Robinson said.

Aaron’s House is named after Aaron Keith Robinson, who died on Aug. 4, 2014, from an accidental gunshot wound after what’s referred to as a psychotic episode. Thirteen years earlier, he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“A Dining Room of Hope’’ is presented by Aaron’s parents – mom Pamela, and his dad, Donald, co-chair of the event.

It is a way to honor their son and raise funds for families in need.

Each year, the Robinsons bring in someone to share statistics on mental health as well as a motivational speaker.

Encouraging caregivers

This year’s keynote speaker, Tony Gaskins Jr., a national motivational speaker and author, shared his experience of working at a group home years ago for people dealing with mental health issues.

Through his teary-eyed message, Gaskins shared words of encouragement to the banquet attendees.

“If you find yourself caring for someone, whether it’s your child, your mother or father,  any family member, any friend, you may be chosen against your will. … You were chosen because you could be trusted… When you can find it in your heart to support those who are affected by it directly, to pay it forward, not only do you change your life but you change theirs,’’ he said.

Robinson said Gaskins reminded caregivers in the audience that their “jobs of caring for their loved ones is a sacred charge given to them by the Creator of the universe… Mr. Gaskins was able to use his background as an employee in a mental health facility to galvanize caregivers into action.’’

‘A hidden taboo’

She also mentioned how discussing mental health issues has been a taboo in the Black community and that must change.

“Because the proliferation of mental illness is exploding minute by minute and mental health has been a hidden taboo, we are bringing those issues out of the closet. As they come out, new tools for combating, coping and dealing with mental health conditions are emerging,” Robinson related.

“We are no longer in the closet. I’d like to see people with mental illness who cannot afford insurance in the African-American community get the same health care treatment as those who are more affluent.

“I’d like to see this community rally around our fellow men and women who are struggling, and, of course, I’d want to see mental health getting as much attention as physical health.”

A daily struggle

Although her son has been gone for five years, Robinson noted that she still struggles with his loss.

“It is a daily struggle; the pain does not abate. I still have his cell phone in my contacts. I think of him during my entire waking hours. He is never far from my thoughts, but it is rewarding to assist caregivers and others as they embark upon providing lifetime service to their loved ones,” she added.

For more information on Aaron’s House and its support group schedule, visit www.aaronshouse.org.

This article originally appeared in the Florida Courier. 

Taking The Stigma Out Of Mental Illness

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