Mental Health & The Black Church: Richard Smallwood Opens Up About Past Struggle With Clinical Depression
Article By Angela Beckham:: EEW MAGAZINE NEWS
Slowly, by degrees, more and more people within the black church are opening up about their struggles with mental health.
Among them is Hall of Fame inductee and multiple GRAMMY® Award-nominated singer/composer/arranger, Richard Smallwood.
In a recent interview with Chicago Tribune, the 66-year-old revealed that, once upon a time, "I had no desire to live. I was consumed with suicide most of the day."
Before being diagnosed with clinical depression in 2002, Smallwood wasn’t aware of the source of his angst. In the late 90s, at his worst, he could hardly get out of bed, couldn’t find motivation to bathe, shave, write music or leave the house.
“I just thought I was unhappy a lot," Smallwood explained. "It was debilitating. I knew Jesus probably longer than some folks have, and I suffered.”
After seeing a Christian psychiatrist and receiving the professional attention he needed, Smallwood now has a deeper understanding of depression.
It is “an illness, like cancer, or diabetes,” he explained. “You can't just say, 'Pray about it.' You gotta get help."
After undergoing treatment, inclusive of prescription drugs, Smallwood was able to minister. But after exiting the platform, he would go back to his room and into that place of despair.
"I felt like a fraud,” he said. “I would get up and talk about Jesus being the center of my joy, but as soon as I got offstage, I would go into a dark hole.”
There are millions of women and men of faith and color who battle depression. Unfortunately, for some, there is a stigma attached to mental illness, forcing them into a closet of shame.
“A lot of times in the past, African-Americans have viewed severe depression and other mental illnesses as indicating a spiritual weakness,” said Tamara Warren Chinyani, an instructor with the “Mental Health First Aid” program.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely than non-Hispanic whites to report instances of serious psychological stress.
Christian psychiatrists say, the more the issue is discussed, the less taboo it will become for affected persons to admit they need help.
Smallwood’s psychiatrist, also a minister, saw him two to three times a week. The faith-filled professional not only used drugs and therapy to aid Smallwood’s treatment, but also encouraged his faith in God’s power to heal.
That healing, according to Smallwood, came in 2010 after having a dream.
In it, he was walking down a street with his stepfather, from whom he was estranged in his youth, and heard the sound of music coming from a massive building. The two sat together and listened.
After walking away, Smallwood said his stepfather offered to carry him.
When he awakened, he broke down crying.
Somehow, the dream took away the pain he was carrying from that strained relationship and also wiped away his depression.
"At that point, I never had to take another pill," he told the Chicago Tribune. "It was God's way of healing me of some of the things I was dealing with."