Last week I had the opportunity to attend 1050 ESPN Radio’s “Lunch with a Legend,” series at the Oak Room in New York City in honor of former Met and Yankee Darryl Strawberry and author of Straw: Finding My Way (Ecco; $26.99). He’s been called the firecracker of New York, the city’s wild child, and known to have an angry edge but that day fans saw a much gentler side of Strawberry when he shared the hardships of his childhood and how they played a role in the choices he made as an adult.
Growing up in a home with an alcoholic father, who Strawberry says “would beat the living crap” out of him and constantly remind him that he would never amount to anything, put the all-star into a state of depression where he would later turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He held onto these scars for years and did not seek professional help because that is not something that “African Americans generally do.”
“In the African American community we have to be strong,” Strawberry said. “As black men we are groomed not to feel it or talk about it.”
These words left me thinking: How many people, African Americans in particular, with symptoms of depression refuse to seek professional help because of the stigma in their communities/families/or churches? It’s no secret that some African Americans believe that seeing a psychiatrist is a “white thing” and that black people should just go to church. Although I am a strong believer that the Lord can cure all things, that doesn’t mean that believers can’t seek professional help which includes psychiatrists, psychologists, pastoral counselors, social workers, or medication.
Depression doesn’t discriminate. People of all ages, genders, ethnicities, cultures, and religions can suffer from depressive illnesses, but some cultures may chose to deal with treating the disease differently because of the stigma that surrounds it.
More than 19 million American adults in the United States suffer from some type depressive illness each year. According to the surgeon general, African Americans are over-represented in populations that are particularly at risk for mental illness are the least likely to seek professional help for depression.
Strawberry hopes that his memoir will be an inspiration to others suffering from the same illnesses and encourage them to get help. He has been sober for three years and although the event was sponsored by the Brooklyn Brewery and beer bottles and glasses of alcohol circled him at tables, Strawberry appeared to be unphased. When asked how he was able to cope he answered simply, “I just don’t have a desire for it anymore.”
You can read more about Strawberry, his struggle with drugs and alcohol, and his new outlook on life in the August issue of Black Enterprise magazine (Backtalk). For more information on mental-health related services and/or substance abuse treatment in your community log onto http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/cmhs/.
LaToya M. Smith is the editorial assistant at Black Enterprise magazine