By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer
Societal pressures and stigma keep many in the African-American community from seeking mental health services. Veronica Shelton, an African American marriage and family therapist, wants to change that.
Shelton, a military veteran who now practices therapy in Killeen, spoke at Monday night’s Mind Games forum. Hosted by Baylor’s Rho Eta chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the lecture covered why seeking help for mental issues is important, particularly for members of the African-American community.
The African-American community, Shelton said, has a deep-rooted stigma surrounding medical treatment. Much of this, she said, stems from the United States’ history of racism, including instances of discrimination, medical malpractice and experimentation like the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Shelton said the attitude of “what goes on in this house stays in this house” also prevents many from seeking help to address the issues they face.
“Reasoning has nothing to do with this, we’ve got to be real about things and people don’t want to tell what happened to them…We want to keep everything to ourselves,” Shelton said.
Shelton said she has been through this cycle herself after surviving abuse as a child. Failing to address her trauma led to patterns of risky behavior. Shelton said she was first forced to seek help when these issues culminated into a breakdown.
“I didn’t get help on my own; I actually had a breakdown,” Shelton said. “When I got out of the house and I went to D.C. for my first duty assignment, I was off the chain.”
Religion also plays a role in this stigma. Shelton said that while prayer is a good thing, relying solely on it as treatment falls far short of being effective.
“I am a believer in the word of God wholeheartedly. I believe everything in the Bible, everything. But I also believe God put us on this Earth for a purpose,” Shelton said. “You’ve got parents who say, ‘Why are you going to a mental health person?’ Girl, you need to go to God because God’s got this. He does, that’s why he sent some people like me down here to help you.”
Atlanta senior Veronica Prince, president of the Multicultural Association of Pre-Health Students and member of the Student Health Advisory Council, invited Shelton to speak. Out of everything Shelton covered, Prince said the most important lesson is how easily accessible help is.
“I think the most important thing we went over is how easy and practical it is to get help,” Prince said. “I know as university students it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, what are my parents going to think? I have so much going on I don’t have time.’ But Ms. Veronica did a great job of saying, ‘No, get help.’ There’s nothing wrong with that…”
Mental health isn’t the only topic Shelton covered. She said her advice for seeking help also applies to escaping abusive relationships.
“If he’s not treating you right, he doesn’t deserve you. You’ve got to respect yourself enough before somebody else will,” Shelton said. “If you find yourself in that kind of situation you need to seek help, you’ve got to seek help. It’s too difficult to get out of a relationship like that now without getting hurt. The most dangerous time is when you’re trying to leave a relationship.”
Shelton said her advice is universally applicable, regardless of race or gender.