“You know he needs to check himself in, clean his system out so he can stop living like that,” I said after an old, homeless man came up to us begging for cash. He appeared to be either drunk or very high.

“That would be great, but most folks with those problems would rather live on the streets, cause they don’t want to follow the rules in those recovery places.” A woman stated as she walked next to me into a Chinese carryout. She looked up at the menu, then stated, “But”, she paused, “you know what, they are far stronger than either you or I, having gone through all they have living on the street and surviving.”

This brief conversation I had with a stranger brought to mind the hidden prejudices I and most others have when we see or encounter folks with substance abuse issues. That moment was an ah-ha moment for me. An awakening, though I had been learning a lot about substance abuse I still have underlining prejudices. For now, I will claim I am only human, lol.

As I have given some thought to this it is somewhat disturbing to admit. Due to the fact that over the past two years, I’ve been forced to learn about substance abuse. In the process, I’ve learned that substance abuse issues are mental health illnesses. Those addicted are in other words “self-medicating.”

I have to admit I had to some degree known that mental health and substance abuse went hand and hand. It was not until my present relationship that I’ve came face to face with it. Due to my deep love and commitment for my partner. I’ve taken the time to learn more. It started out as a necessity to understand and since has grown into an interest. It has taken some “ah-ha” moments for it all to come together.

I’m going to use the phrase coined by Martin Lawrence to bring home how people think about mental health, “You So Crazy!” That is what most people think when they hear someone has a mental health issue. It contributes to the fear a person has when they realize they have a mental health illness. Due to the stigma society has about mental health illness those that are affected choose to hide it rather than address it, especially in the black communities.

A few years back I started to notice that there were a lot of people dealing with mental health issues, especially when celebrities such as Taraji P. Henson, Kanya West, Prince Harry, and Jim Carrey started shining light on the subject. I was also in LA when I saw a billboard display on mental health awareness month as we drove by an area known as Skid Row. There where hundreds of homeless people, wandering around who were dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues. Mental health illness is not only in LA but everywhere. I was in Europe a few years ago and I saw the same situations.

In the town I live in I have noticed more people displaying signs of mental health illnesses as I drive. One day there was a Hispanic man holding a Bible in the air screaming to the sky for fire to rain down, then there was a man with only his underwear dancing in the middle of the street as it was storming. There was an elderly woman sleeping on the driveway of a McDonald’s, and there have been countless other situations where individuals were displaying signs of mental health illness and were looking for some way to get high. Then there’s the sad stories of a lover on the way home when his/her mind clicks, and he/she changes directions to go get high. This is addiction and mental health illness at full play.

The safe haven I lived in most of my life only seemed so because I was going through life with blinders on. I now realize folks with mental health illnesses were and have been around all the time. As a toddler my mother separated from my father. I was told he suffered from some form of mental health issue and nursed it with heroin. The aunt that raised me was a weekend alcoholic who covered her addiction by throwing parties nearly every weekend. She also suffered from depression after her 12-year-old son shot himself in the head. My sister who was one year older than I lived all her adult years addicted to drugs until she was found dead in an alley a few years ago. I believe she suffered from the same mental health illness as my father.

The more I learn about mental health illness the more I realize I know very few people who do not suffer from it in one way or another. There are moments I think I may suffer from some form of it also. There’s so much demand on my life that I must be highly functional but when I feel the depression and anxiety trying to take over I have to supress it to get the task done or to be there for others.

I have been exploring mental health and came across Dr. Gabor Mate’ who talks about childhood development and trauma. Dr. Mate’ is an addiction expert who has some clear ideas on dealing with addictions that come from childhood trauma. What he shares is also reinforced by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey in their book, “What Happened To You?” The book is well worth reading.

Watching and reading Dr. Mate’ and Dr. Perry’s material has encouraged me to open a dialogue with my adult children whom I suspected experienced some trauma while I was away from them. I now know that my daughter suffers from social anxiety, and depression, which she had tried to hide from me. Her twin brother lives in another country, and I suspect suffers similarly.

Akili and I are putting our focus on PICS because we understand firsthand the importance of having a healthy mind. It is even more important to us that returning citizens become aware and get the help they need to live a wholesome life. by DeVine