Environmental Factor

April 2011

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Black History Month forum focuses on mental health

By Matt Goad
April 2011

Annette Rice

Workshop organizer, Rice, is the president of BIG, which collaborated with the NIEHS Diversity Council to co-sponsor the Black History Month forum on mental health. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Chris Long

Chris Long, acting associate director for management, gave a hearty welcome to guest speakers and the audience. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

William Zule, Dr.P.H.

Zule spoke about HIV and risky behavior. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Peter Baker

Baker discussed Durham County services available to sufferers of mental illness and their families. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

As part of Black History Month, the Research Triangle Park Chapter of Blacks In Government (BIG) and the NIEHS Diversity Council sponsored a program Feb. 23 on health issues in the African-American community. The theme for the forum, held in Rodbell Auditorium, was "Mental Health: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."

Annette Rice, member of both BIG and the Diversity Council, said mental health is a major concern in the black community, because people often don't know where to turn for help.

Wellness and the family

"Wellness is a focus for the entire family," Rice said, "and, when you have one member with a risky behavior, the whole family is affected. There is help out there for the individual and for the family. We want to get the word out: Don't suffer in silence."

To that end, Bill Smith, Nancy Kent, and Peter Baker of the Durham Center Local Management Entity spoke about options available to sufferers of mental illness and their families. Durham County, N.C., is the home to NIEHS.

Baker noted that when calling 911 for help with a mental health issue, people should always ask for a CIT, or Crisis Intervention Team, officer to ensure a police officer with training in mental health crisis issues is dispatched.

To personalize mental health issues, Ann Akland spoke about being a parent of a child with mental health issues. Akland, who is retired from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, dedicates her time to helping people with severe mental illnesses. Her passion for the cause comes from having a daughter with mental illness.

Risky behavior

Also a topic for the forum was risky behavior, with William Zule, Dr.P.H., of RTI International, speaking about HIV, and Wendee Wechsberg, Ph.D., also of RTI International, speaking about substance abuse.

Risky behavior plays a large part in mental health issues, Rice noted, with the children of people who abuse drugs and pursue risky sexual behavior often suffering from mental health issues.

The forum was part of a continuing effort by BIG and the Diversity Council to bring attention to health issues of concern in the African-American community. Past forums have focused on lupus, breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

(Matt Goad is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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