Faith Chappell, CEO of Insight Treatment Programs in Modesto, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. The center specializes in adolescent counseling and therapy.

Faith Chappell, CEO of Insight Treatment Programs in Modesto, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. The center specializes in adolescent counseling and therapy.

Faith Chappell, CEO of Insight Treatment Programs in Modesto, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. The center specializes in adolescent counseling and therapy.

aalfaro@modbee.com

Faith Chappell recalls how lonely she felt as a teen not being able to open up to her parents about her mental health struggles. It simply wasn’t part of her family’s culture to talk about such a thing, said the 39-year-old, who was reared in a Black Christian household.

The Modesto resident is far from alone.

Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems compared to the general community, but some are less likely to receive services than their white counterparts, the Columbia University department of psychiatry research found.

One barrier to seeking mental health help is the stigma surrounding it, which a majority (63%) of Black Americans feel is a sign of personal weakness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“My family was really religious, so it was like, ‘You need to pray about it. You need to exercise.’ It wasn’t seen as a condition at all,” Chappell said.

As a teen, she never saw others open up about mental health, she said, so she wasn’t sure if the overwhelming anxiety she experienced was normal and OK. Living in poverty and constantly moving because of that triggered Chappell’s anxiety, she says.

“Back then, we couldn’t name it as mental health. I was just nervous all the time,” she said.

Having to go to different schools because she moved around so much made it hard to have friends. She said the moves also affected her learning confidence because she was always in a different place in that school’s learning plan.

This uncertainty, coupled with the taboo surrounding mental illness, made her feel too uncomfortable to share with her parents what she was experiencing. “Knowing that my family didn’t have an understanding about mental health or a way to manage it, I knew that as a young person I couldn’t rely on them to understand it,” said Chappell, who’s now Central Valley CEO of Insight Treatment Programs, a center for teens experiencing serious mental health disturbances and addition.

Chappell’s role as CEO is to provide parental support and be a resource to the community. She graduated in 2011 from Grand Canyon University with her master’s degree in special education, which focuses on emotional disorders and behavioral health.

Professor noticed student’s struggle

The situation was different for Stanislaus State alum Josh Woodfolk, 24, who chose to let his parents in on what he was feeling. Navigating college amid the pandemic was taking a toll on his mental health, and one of his professors began to notice it.

“He was like, ‘I think you might have depression … you should go talk to a therapist,’” Woodfolk said his professor told him.

At first, Woodfolk disregarded his symptoms as laziness. It’s common to mislabel depression that way, health experts say, because it can mirror what society has come to call laziness.

However, laziness is the result of lacking self-awareness and insight into what’s self-motivating, at it lasts maybe a few days maximum, Psychology Today reports.

Depression can look different for everybody, which is why it’s important to seek a professional diagnosis, according to the mental health information and news site PsychCentral. Some of the signs are feelings of hopelessness, irritability, poor hygiene, difficulty concentrating and loss of interest in things, PsychCentral report.

Woodfolk said he was on track to graduate, but challenges brought on by the pandemic, including course cancellations needed for his degree, made him feel it was pointless to continue his education.

Though mental health wasn’t something Woodfolk’s family talked about, he didn’t want to hide from his parents that he was planning to seek therapy, he said. But when he shared his mental health struggle with his family, he was bothered by their reaction.

“At first, they thought that maybe I was overreacting,” he said. “They kind of gave that typical, ‘Nah, you’re fine’ kind of answer.”

Two semesters later, Woodfolk mustered up the courage to see a therapist. He and his therapist agreed that the school environment amid the pandemic was having a devastating toll on his mental health, so she encouraged him to finish early by changing the focus of his major.

In the spring of 2021, Woodfolk graduated with his bachelor’s in music. Once he got on medication, his parents noticed a difference and become more open to the thought that therapy could be effective.

“I started feeling better and they’re like, ‘All right, I guess it makes sense,’” Woodfolk said his parents told him.

Black Americans taught to endure

The lack of understanding is rooted in the enslavement of Africans, which kept them from being able to properly deal with their mental health at that time, said Tameika Easter-Griffin, a licensed marriage and family therapist serving residents of Stanislaus County. She said enslaved Africans didn’t have the time to deal with their mental struggles.

“You couldn’t lay in a bed and tell the master you weren’t going out to pick the cotton,” she said.

Even after emancipation, Easter-Griffin said, there was a shared mindset among Black Americans of the silent generation (born 1928-45), who lived through Jim Crow laws and the civil rights movement, that they needed to equip their community to be tough in order to deal with racism, lynchings, rapes and other injustices.

“The mindset was you had to really prepare people for life. … You don’t have time to teach kids to be sensitive,” she said.

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Renaldo Rucker teaches at Grace Davis High School in Modesto.

That’s the mentality Renaldo Rucker said he grew up with in order to survive being a Black man in America. But that mentality didn’t safeguard him from a mental health breakdown just after graduating college.

Rucker, a teacher at Grace Davis High School, remembers being in one of his college classes with his head down, hoping his professor would notice the signs. “It was almost like I was hoping that the teacher would say, ‘Are you OK?’”

He didn’t know how to express what he was feeling because it wasn’t part of the language he grew up with. Inside, he was harboring trauma from racial discrimination experiences.

He also was not sleeping and eating enough as he attended school full time, worked two jobs and drove from the Bay Area to Modesto constantly to see his 6-month-old baby. The racial incidents made him feel life was unfair, and just when it couldn’t get any worse, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred.

All of these factors led him to having a mental health episode. He wasn’t aware of any mental health stigma, he just knew he wanted to seek help so he could get better for his daughter, Rucker said.

At the start of what he now knows was a manic episode, he decided to quit his job. But when he was diagnosed and realized he’d had a mental health disturbance, he tried to get his job back but was denied.

“At that time, people were not sensitive to people going through mental health,” he said.

But Rucker didn’t let the situation set him back. He went on to obtain his master’s degree in 2017 and then his doctorate degree in education from Stanislaus State in 2021.

Though about half of Americans feel comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace, more than a third worry about job consequences if they seek mental help, the American Psychiatric Association found.

The notion that Black people don’t go to therapy, they seek Jesus, can also be dated back to slavery, said Easter-Griffin. Africans have always been spiritual people, leaning on God when there was no one else to rely on.

She said many continue to believe depression and other mental illnesses are a result of spiritual oppression or not enough prayer. Though that may be true, said Easter-Griffin, who identifies as a Christian woman, people can’t be left in pain because of that.

“Without counsel, my people fail,” she said, quoting scripture. “We’re supposed to seek out counsel … especially as people of faith.”

Pandemic fuels mental health crisis

People are seeking help more than ever as the pandemic accelerates the mental health crisis in America. Insight Treatments has seen an increase across all seven of its locations, going from 100 inbound calls a month to more than 400, Chappell said.

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Faith Chappell, CEO of Insight Treatment Programs in Modesto, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. The center specializes in adolescent counseling and therapy. Andy Alfaro aalfaro@modbee.com

Both she and Easter-Griffin given believe that although the mental health stigma persists in the Black community, the increasing number of people reaching out for help shows progress. They especially see it in the younger generations who are choosing to be more vocal about their mental health.

Easter-Griffin said therapists like her are doing their best to keep up with the high demand, adding that she’s booked solid through March. She said she’s even had trouble finding a therapist for her daughter.

“Everybody I talked to was full, until finally I found somebody,” she said. “That tells me that if it’s hard for me as a therapist to find somebody, I know people out there are having a really hard time.”

To contact the Modesto location of Insight Treatment, go to insighttreatment.com/contact/modesto-location or call 209-299-2880. Psychology Today also has a list of therapists in Stanislaus County at www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/ca/stanislaus-county.

Mental health treatment information also can be found under “Services” on the homepage of Stanislaus County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, at www.stancounty.com/bhrs.

Andrea Briseño is the equity reporter for The Bee’s community-funded Economic Mobility Lab, which features a team of reporters covering economic development, education and equity.

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Andrea is the equity/underserved communities reporter for The Modesto Bee’s Economic Mobility Lab. She is a Fresno native and a graduate of San Jose State University.

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