Commentary: Devon Davis and mental health in our community

Commentary: Devon Davis and mental health in our community
June 30
05:15 2016

Kimya N. Dennis

Guest Columnist

Devon Davis was one of over 2,000 North Carolina inmates released last year after being imprisoned with a mental illness. This prison release is an example of changes to North Carolina’s mental health system.

Unfortunately, this release also shows how difficult it is to bring incarcerated people back into society.  There are programs and organizations dedicated to prison re-entry and reintegration. But not every former inmate has access to these programs and organizations. Not every program and organization discusses mental health and mental illness.

Devon Davis is struggling with unemployment and homelessness. He sometimes stays with family. This is a lot to deal with while also dealing with mental illness. The story of Devon Davis is familiar in many communities —unemployment, homelessness, or moving from one place of living to another. Many communities are less familiar with mental health and mental illness.  This unfamiliarity is not because mental health and mental illness are uncommon in our communities. Instead, many people do not know the meaning of “mental health.” Many people do not get diagnosed and treated for their mental and emotional difficulties. This is similar to how many people do not get diagnosed and treated for physical difficulties.

The phrases “mental health” and “mental illness” (and “mental health condition”) are commonly used.  But when you ask some people what these phrases mean, some people are not sure.  National Institute of Health (NIH) defines mental health as how we think, feel and behave. Mental health is about how we deal with things that happen in our lives and how we make life decisions. How we deal with our problems and stress.  How we deal with other people.

Mental health does not mean there is a mental illness.  Everyone has mental and emotional health (and physical health). Our thoughts and feelings can be temporary and short term (example: sadness) or they can last a long time (example: depression). We need healthy ways to express our emotions. Ways that do not harm ourselves or anyone else.

When feelings and actions become uncontrollable and unhealthy, there might be a mental illness. Mental illnesses are health conditions that harm how we think, feel, and behave. Health conditions are connected to genetics, family background, things happening in our lives, and things that stress us out.

When should we contact medical and mental health professionals?

*If we cannot control our thoughts and actions

*If we struggle to start or keep relationships with coworkers, friends, and family

*If a loved one is struggling

Mental health is important. We need to pay attention to how we think and feel; pay attention to how we behave and treat other people. Let’s get rid of the silence and shame with mental health and mental illness. Let’s talk to each other, listen to each other. As a community, help each other get professional help. As individuals, get professional help if we need help. We must take care of ourselves so we can take care of the people we love and our communities.

For more information, go to:

*The Mental Health Association in Forsyth County:

*Mental Health America: African American Communities and Mental Health

Kimya N. Dennis is a criminologist and sociologist with interdisciplinary research and community outreach on suicide and self-harm, mental health, and reproductive freedoms. Her work places particular emphasis on under serviced communities and Blacks/African diaspora. She is a member of the Board of Directors for The Mental Health Association in Forsyth County; North Carolina chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; and LEAD Girls of NC.

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