Alliance addressing mental health for African Americans


Providing information on African American mental health are Kim McClellan, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Southwestern Illinois program coordinator and teacher at the SIUE Head Start/Early Head Start Cahokia Center (left) and her husband, Eugene Luster Jr., of SIUE Dining Services. Getting information is Edith Laktzian, SIUE East St. Louis Charter High School teacher.  (Photo courtesy of SIUE)

Lack of resources, negative cultural attitudes and slow physician responses can impede the healthy management of mental health conditions facing African Americans, according to Kim McClellan, National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwestern Illinois (NAMI SWI) project coordinator.

McClellan gave three presentations at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Center (ESLC) during July, which was Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.

“The African American community experiences mental health conditions at comparable rates to the general population, but receives significantly less treatment,” said McClellan, also a teacher at the SIUE Head Start/Early Head Start Cahokia Center. “One of the reasons is because of the stigma and lack of acceptance that permeates within the community.”

NAMI’s outreach to the African American community is extensive, including the campaign of Sharing Hope.

The three common disorders among African Americans, according to McClellan:

  • Bipolar disorder “is a condition that causes an irregular pattern of changes in mood, energy and thinking. People with bipolar disorder have high and low moods, known as mania and depression which differ from the typical ups and downs most people experience.”
  • Schizophrenia “is a condition that interferes with the ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to other people.”
  • Depression “is more than just feeling sad or blue once in a while – it’s a condition that affects how a person thinks, feels and acts. It takes away a person’s energy, interests and pleasure interfering with all aspects of life.”

Eugene Luster Jr., who co-facilitated the July 19 presentation at the ESLC with his wife, McClellan, has post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his service in the Marine Corps.

“If I felt threatened, I’d lash out. Seeking help was hard. No one wants to be labeled,” said Luster, who works in SIUE Dining Services. “My wife helped me a lot. Your brain can get sick, just like the rest of your body.”

“If you have mental illness, no one is showing up at your door with a casserole. One in five people are affected by mental illness,” added McClellan. “NAMI works to address mental health stigma and to increase understanding and awareness. We provide free and educational support programs.”

“The good news is that recovery is possible,” she said. “African Americans need to become better educated and accepting of mental illness and the solutions available.”

For more information, contact McClellan at



—- Alliance addressing mental health for African Americans —-