Too often, silence and apathy keep Jacksonville’s black community from fully confronting issues of mental health.
Many black residents are reluctant to tell anyone they’re dealing with mental health concerns.
So they quietly suffer.
And many local black pastors show little interest in mental health.
Or they do so with a harshly judgmental mentality that views mental illness as a personal or moral weakness.
That only discourages troubled parishioners from approaching their pastors for support and guidance.
And the damaging silence goes on.
“We have people in Jacksonville sitting in congregations every Sunday with serious mental health needs that aren’t being addressed or treated at all,” said Vernon Washington, an ordained minister and clinical counselor for Family Foundations of Jacksonville.
“They believe that it’s their fault,” Washington added. “They (rely on) prayer alone to change things. But that’s a misconception of what God wants from us. He wants us to do all we can to be of sound mind as well as sound body. So what’s wrong with mental health being integrated into (the black) church?”
Jacquelyn Nash, a longtime local licensed clinician, echoed Washington’s comments.
“Just saying ‘Let me pray with you’ to people who are hurting mentally isn’t always the answer,” Nash said.
“God has put other things in place to help prayer do what it can. We need to help people get that help.”
Washington and Nash made their comments during a recent conference hosted by Northwest Behavioral Health Services to address mental health in Jacksonville’s African-American community — and discuss how black pastors can help, support and guide those staggering under the weight of emotional issues.
The half-day conference, held at Edward Waters College, identified two clear strategies that Jacksonville’s influential black faith community can and should embrace.