We’ve got to have a serious conversation about mental illness! Mental illness is real.
During a time where the nation is dealing with an unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, mental illness is on the rise and is impacting the lives of so many people. It is also becoming more prevalent in the African American community.
The subject of mental health must not remain taboo. It must be talked about now and can’t be ignored!
Depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety are just a few of the things that are causing people to suffer from mental health challenges and even fatally harm themselves.
You never know what someone is going through, regardless of age, race, gender, political affiliation, profession, or socioeconomic status. Mental illness does not discriminate.
Right here in our own backyard, one of Houston’s most talented and successful athletes sadly became the latest casualty of mental illness.
On August 9th, former University of Houston (UH) track and field star Cameron Burrell, 26, was found dead in a parking garage in Houston.
According to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences medical records, Cameron suffered a fatal, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, and his death has been ruled a suicide by the medical examiner.
Cameron was a successful track and field star in college at UH, having captured the NCAA individual national championship in the 100-meters in 2018, under the tutelage of his father and college coach, Leroy Burrell, and his godfather, Olympian Carl Lewis. He also ran the anchor leg for the University of Houston’s NCAA National Champion 4×100-meter relay team and was a three-time NCAA All-American in multiple events. While at UH, he also pledged and became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. in 2018. Cameron also had a slew of accomplishments after his stellar collegiate career, such as being a member of the United States 4×100-meter relay team, which earned the gold medal in 2012 at the World Junior Championships and the silver medal at the 2019 World Relays. Cameron also ran the anchor leg on the U.S. relay team that won the gold medal at the 2018 Athletics World Cup.
There is little information as to what led to his decision, but the impact of his death has left a host of family members and friends to mourn his loss in the aftermath.
His father, Olympic gold medal sprinter Leroy Burrell, released a statement regarding the death of his son, where he encouraged anyone struggling with mental illness to seek help.
“Our family’s hearts were broken with the passing of our son, Cameron, who took his own life,” said Leroy Burrell in a message shared with the media. “We may never know why Cameron made such a decision. We encourage anyone who may be struggling in their lives to reach out for help.”
On social media, Dawn Burrell, who is Cameron’s aunt and an Olympian shared an emotional message regarding her nephew’s death.
“Right now, my heart is broken into a million pieces,” said Dawn Burrell on her Instagram page. “I lost my nephew. He was also a son and a father. He was so amazing and so troubled. I did not know how much so…Rest in the glory that was already yours nephew. You have always been greatness personified. I don’t know what I’m gonna do without you.”
Cameron was laid to rest on August 16 at Westbury Church of Christ in Houston.
The pain shared by the Burrell family is nothing new when it comes to mental illness stories with outcomes like this. As stated earlier, it impacts many people, no matter what your status.
Lil Wayne, the 38-year-old, five-time Grammy-winning rapper, recently broke his silence on TV host Emmanuel Acho’s “Uncomfortable Conversations” program, about mental illness and how he nearly committed suicide 26 years ago when he was only 12 years old.
Lil Wayne shared how he struggled with mental illness and how he had no one to share his feelings with. One of the most interesting parts of the interview was when he shared that his mother found out that he had been skipping school and because he was afraid she would pull the plug on his aspiring rap career, he called the police and shot himself in the chest with his mother’s gun.
“How I knew I had mental health problems was I pulled the trigger,” said Lil Wayne. “It’s real.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness, reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, the third leading cause of death for people aged 10–14, and the second leading cause of death for people aged 15–24. It is important that more conversations are happening surrounding this and more resources are devoted to bringing attention to this critically important issue.
Mental Health America (MHA), which is considered the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness, released its annual State of Mental Health in America Report. The report ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on several mental health and access measures.
MHA found that 19%, or 47.1 million people in the U.S., are living with a mental health condition nationwide—a 1.5 million increase over their report from the previous year.
According to MHA, they state that the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report confirms a trend that mental health in the U.S. continues to get worse and that many states are not prepared to handle this crisis. They call on policymakers, at every level of government, to act immediately before it worsens even more, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage our nation.
Here are some of the key findings and alarming statistics:
- While rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are increasing for people of all races and ethnicities, Black or African American screeners have had the highest average percent change over time for anxiety and depression.
- More people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded in the MHA Screening program since its launch in 2014. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread rapidly in March 2020, over 178,000 people have reported frequent suicidal ideation. 37 percent of people reported having thoughts of suicide more than half or nearly every day in September 2020.
- Young people are struggling most with their mental health. The proportion of youth ages 11-17 who accessed screening was 9 percent higher than the average in 2019. Not only are the number of youth searching for help with their mental health increasing, but throughout the COVID-19 pandemic youth ages 11-17 have been more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Youth mental health is worsening, whereas 9.7% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in last year’s dataset. This rate was highest among youth who identify as more than one race, at 12.4%.
- Rates of suicidal ideation are highest among youth, especially LGBTQ+ youth. In September 2020, over half of 11-17-year-olds reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm more than half or nearly every day of the previous two weeks. From January to September 2020, 77,470 youth reported experiencing frequent suicidal ideation, including 27,980 LGBTQ+ youth.
- There is still unmet need for mental health treatment among youth and adults. 60% of youth with major depression did not receive any mental health treatment in 2017-2018. Even in states with the greatest access, over 38% are not receiving the mental health services they need. Among youth with severe depression, only 27.3% received consistent treatment. 23.6% of adults with a mental illness reported an unmet need for treatment in 2017-2018. This number has not declined since 2011.
- Even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental illness among adults was increasing. In 2017-2018, 19% of adults experienced a mental illness, an increase of 1.5 million people over last year’s dataset.
- People screening at risk for mental health conditions are struggling most with loneliness or isolation. From April to September 2020, among people who screened with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, 70 percent reported that one of the top three things contributing to their mental health concerns was loneliness or isolation.
- The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.
- The number of people screening with moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety has continued to increase throughout 2020 and remains higher than rates prior to COVID-19. In September 2020, the rate of moderate to severe anxiety peaked, with over 8 in 10 people who took an anxiety screen scoring with moderate to severe symptoms. Over 8 in 10 people who took a depression screen have scored with symptoms of moderate to severe depression consistently since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
- Suicidal ideation among adults is increasing. The percentage of adults in the U.S. who are experiencing serious thoughts of suicide increased 0.15% from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018 – an additional 460,000 people from last year’s dataset.
- The percentage of adults with a mental illness who are uninsured increased for the first time since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Nationally, 10.8% are uninsured, totaling 5.1 million adults.
As stated earlier, mental illness is real and must be addressed.
Please talk to those closest to you who you may suspect could be dealing with mental illness challenges, depression, anxiety, or other abnormal behavior. Take some time to view their social media posts and activity. Talk to their friends or family members you trust, if you are concerned about them in any way. If they are amenable, encourage them to go with you to their family physician to do a behavioral assessment or visit with a pastor. Be sure to show them love and hug them to show them love and affection. More importantly, everyone should read up on mental illness and ask their family members whether mental illness has been a taboo issue that has been a major part of their family. Doing all or some of these things could help someone close to you avoid a mental illness crisis before it is too late.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.