It is Long Past Time to Take Action About Mental Health in America | James Hooks

Six college students were killed in Santa Barbara last Friday, and their deaths could have been prevented.

Eighteen months ago, twenty children and six adults were killed at an elementary school in Connecticut, and it could have been prevented.

A little under two years ago, twelve people were killed at a movie theater in Colorado, and it could have been prevented.

Mental health funding in the United States has suffered cuts and negligence in recent decades, leaving hundreds of thousands of Americans on the streets, behind bars, in homeless shelters, or simply isolated and miserable. In many cases, this leads to preventable suicides. In some cases, these same people (who either have had treatment or have been approached by people untrained to recognize someone who needs treatment) have been on the trigger end of a weapon they should have not had access to, causing the needless end of many lives.

How do the numbers add up in terms of dollars and population? In the U.S., mental illness accounts for just six percent of total health care costs. The cost of the treatment, lost productivity, and disability payments, however, adds up to $450 billion. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year, which translates to 57.7 million people, or one in four adults.

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How did the United States get to this point?

Armed with little more than optimism, a group of high-minded psychiatrists helped start the National Institute of Mental Health and set in motion an ambitious agenda for the next half-century: closing the state mental hospitals, initiating a federal takeover of the mental health system, and creating a nationwide network of community mental health centers.

Reform was well underway when President John F. Kennedy endorsed this new era in mental health calling for a “bold new approach” in which “reliance on the cold mercy of custodial isolation will be supplanted by the open warmth of community concern and capability.”

Those were heady days in American psychiatry, when psychoanalysis and the mental hygiene movement held sway and promised to cure all manner of ills by early intervention and improving the social environment. In hindsight, the therapeutic zeal of these professionals was impressively naïve: they were certain that severely mentally ill patients in state hospitals—many living there for decades—would magically adjust to the community and do well with outpatient treatment.

How wrong they proved to be.

We now live in an age where people do not talk about mental health without associating it with the word “crazy”. Those who do not have the means to effectively deal with mental health problems in the family either ignore the issue or leave it in the hands of poorly-trained people to make life-changing decisions. Law enforcement who get a call on checking on one’s mental state will often be convinced that everything is okay, because they do not understand what the tell-tale signs are. We walk away from apparent problems without identifying the causes of them.

There is also another epidemic that has not been talked about much: toxic male entitlement and the MRA/PUA movement that devalues the lives of women. For almost as long as modern human civilization has existed, women have been treated as second class citizens, with men taking dominance in all familial and societal decisions that have shaped the direction of our planet. It was until recently that women have been given equal opportunities as men, and even then, things such as equal pay for equal work is a topic that continues to be discussed in the 21st century.

While it would be irresponsible to place the blame on the Isla Vista tragedy on men’s rights activities, it would be equally irresponsible not to look at some of the arguments that are being made by them: men can’t be blamed for rape; women receive preferential treatment in the workplace; society is crumbling in recent decades because of women’s additional rights. Similar arguments are often made about racial equality in America, but that’s neither here nor there.

One point that often occurs during tragedies is the speculation about an agenda or conspiracy to take guns away from lawful gun owners. There are those who see an event like Friday’s and call for all guns to be abolished; there are others who fear that people in power are using mass shooting events as a reason to stock up on weaponry. For one, while the United States Constitution was written at a time when the need for guns for safety was much greater then than today, there is no politician that is going to make a call to repeal or further amend the second amendment. Two, the mental health discussion should not immediately invoke a discussion about guns. If anything, the lack of action after the deaths of elementary children should show where most of the country lands on that issue. Instead, the discussion about gun laws and safety should include better background checks and increased scrutiny for those who wish to purchase firearms as a preventative measure, with possible renewals for licensing over time in the event an individual’s mental facilities decrease over time. There should also be a greater emphasis on better training for weapon carriers, increased education on how best to defend oneself and one’s property with a gun, and better awareness about the gun laws in each individual state, so that people are aware of their rights on the federal and state level.

The mental health discussion should be about how to provide better funding for agencies to provide for the mentally ill, better education for law enforcement on how to recognize mentally unstable people, and a culture change that allows for the discussion to take place without fear of retribution or off-hand dismissal. Our country needs to follow in Kennedy’s words and make sure that people who display mental illness get the attention they need.  Services based on bettering the community are the first to experience a cut in government funding in economic downturns. Short term, this may seem to save our government money, but in the long run will continue to affect other parts of the community and the people in it, thus requiring an increase in other services and increase in funds, which are often not provided.

To do nothing is complete political and societal neglect. We have a problem with providing care in this country for those who need it, and it is long past time to have more than just a discussion about what we should do to prevent future tragedies from happening.

The Irony of Black America and the Christian Church

The relationship between African Americans and Christianity is interesting.

As somewhat of an amateur historian, it often intrigues me when I think about how black people in America have become so deeply intertwined with the Christian faith over the last 300-400 years as if to make it their own. But the fact is that the vast majority of African ancestors in the United States are Christian, not because of an epiphany or a prophet that came from the valleys of West Africa to share the word of Jesus Christ to a lost people, but because slaves were forced to convert under threat of death. It was this same Christian faith that used its scripture to keep blacks as slaves politically, socially, and economically until practically forty years ago.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Ephesians 6:5

When West African slaves were brought over to the States in shackles, they had no concept of Jesus Christ.  No understanding of King James. No possibility of reading the Holy Scripture.  While Christianity (and to a different extent, Islam) played a role in North African religions as early as the first century, it had not made its way down to the western and southern parts of the continent, where a majority of African-Americans’ ancestors come from.

In a partial effort to keep African slaves from rebelling, white Christian slave owners force-fed the great-great-great grandparents of today’s blacks Christianity at knifepoint and gunpoint. It was accepted wholeheartedly, to the point that now in the 21st century, a majority of African-Americans believe in Jesus Christ.

You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.  You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. Leviticus 25:44-46

And what has the Christian faith done to black culture in return?

slave-billboardOne could argue that it made black progress in America very weak. There is a prevalent “this too shall pass” attitude that hinders some from pressing harder than they should, from getting dirty and getting work done.  It’s as if there is an expectation for God to just step in and make things right in due time. Because of that, far too many are far too willing to wait out painful or unideal situations that could be solved more easily than being proactive; rely on God more than ourselves.

It has made us soft.

Black America constantly uses God as both a reason and excuse for everything. “God is testing me.” “God will show me the way to pay these bills.” “God will keep me strong in prison.” “Thank you, God for this BET Award for my new rap album, Unforgivable Murder.  Without Him, nothing is possible.” Black America may be the most conservative in terms of faith in God, yet the most liberal–no, the most egregious–in how that faith is used.

So we end up stagnant. Not moving forward. Afraid to take risks. Thinking God, and in extension, the government or some other form of hand-out will guide us through. When one considers about how many inner city communities display their lack of faith in “white America”, historically the same people who indoctrinated them in the Christian faith, it makes no rational sense.  And thus the irony of black Christian faith bleeds through.

The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it.  “But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly.  Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.”  Luke 12:47-48

That said, it is religion has provided a strong community base from which the poor have found strength, comfort, and support. Black churches have been the focal point of the community and a place that provided the services that poor blacks couldn’t get anywhere else, such as child care, tutoring, and in some cases, tuition.  Religion is the culture for today’s families, as most personal ties to our homeland are long severed, and America is the only real home blacks in the states know of.

Without Christianity, one wonders how the Civil Rights movement would have played out.  The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr (keyword: reverend) was the central figure the movement, just as the Christian Church played a crucial role. There is no denying the positive impact the church played. There is also no denying the long-lasting negative effects the religion has played.

Much like any tool, a belief, social construct, or religion can be used positively or negatively by the one that wields it. With that power comes the strength and understanding that each individual has the personal responsibility to utilize their strengths and build a life of their own for good or ill.

It may have been a relatively short period of time that there has been social acceptance of integration between African and European descendants, but there have been signs of dual understanding 11944_10152101858321623_2142768365378595600_nof the human experience that transcend race long before the Civil Rights Movement. When we think about some of our most celebrated in the U.S., none is so striking or heartfelt as Memorial Day, wherein the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces are remembered. While the origins of the holiday are disputed, it was on May 1, 1865, that former slaves in Charleston, SC honored 257 dead Union Soldiers. The dead soldiers were buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. The slaves dug up the bodies and worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated.

This event is significant in itself for the impact these people had on the country in recognizing those who fell in service of our country. What is also inspiring is that white missionaries and teachers and Union infantry joined the black Charlestons in the parade, joining in song and prayer and scripture as one people, not separate races, something that was absolutely unheard of at the time.

It is in this story that we find a central concept in Christianity that may speak volumes to why Americans embrace it so much, despite the history and hurt it has caused.


Forgiveness in those who do not know the evil that they do. Forgiveness in those that hurt my father, my mother, my brother, my sister. Forgiveness in the pain and scars that have been put on my soul, because while man knows only selfishness and ill will, God is good.

Perhaps it is the approach, then, with which Christianity is tackled that needs to change.  Instead of using God as an excuse, use it as a reason to work hard and do good.  Instead of saying that Jesus will help you out of any situation, remind yourselves that Jesus gave mankind hands to use and a brain to think and that we cannot just accept our situations–no matter how dire–blindly.

Work hard without simply accepting. Be accepting without being complacent. And if you must believe in a deity, don’t forget to believe in the one thing you must always live with and, ultimately, be accountable to.


This post was originally written in 2009 after the first inauguration of President Barack Obama.

America: It Will Remain

There have been a lot of words that have been shared with me about the election and the future of our nation.

The hopes about what tomorrow may bring for your home.

The fears for the future of your families.

The concerns about how the outcome of tomorrow night’s election may affect our country.

The truth is, in more than a few ways, we are a divided nation. We are a nation of conservatives and liberals, believers and atheists, hetero and homosexual and everything in-between. Some of you find issue with one belief or lifestyle, but this does not change the fact that they, that we, are still Americans. My own family, uniquely diverse in its beliefs for a black American family, is also full of conservatives and liberals, believers and atheists, hetero and homosexual and everything in-between.  Some of us find issue with each other’s beliefs or lifestyles, but this does not change the fact that we are still a family.

Rather than let our differences divide us, at the heart of everything we fight and argue about, it is our humanity which connects us, our spirit that drives us, and the belief that tomorrow could be better that burns the passions within us. My mom still has the strength to fight for her health, because she doesn’t believe that her life is dictated solely by the illnesses she has battled for many years. I want all of you to believe that we as a family, as a community, as a nation will also remain strong, no matter what trials we’ve faced or obstacles we’ve encountered. So as we all enter tomorrow with some trepidation in our hearts, tension on our minds and a bit of nervousness in our palms, do not give into the fear that you will lose what is most precious to you.

The home we were born into may not reflect the nature or nurture of our neighbors, but our neighbors they remain. In times of crisis, our neighbors hold open their doors to help us and watch our homes while we are away, for that is what neighbors do.The beliefs we hold may not reflect the beliefs of our families, but our family they remain. Through blood and bond, through happiness and hardship, our family cares for us, loves us, and fights for us, for that is what families do.The person that is elected to the Office of the President tomorrow may not be the person we agree with, or the person we believe will lead this country to a better future, but America it will remain. Though it will always have its faults, America also finds progress in adversity and triumph in its darkest hour.

Tomorrow may not be the future we envisioned, but with patience and perseverance, the future will be a tomorrow worth fighting for.