By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Life has changed since the nation first observed Mental Health Awareness Month in May 1949.
Since then, ongoing and escalating mental health episodes have been recorded. Currently, national attention is on a New York City subway chokehold killing of 30-year-old Jordan Neely, a homeless man with a documented mental health history.
According to news reports, 24-year-old Daniel Penny choked Neely to death in a subway car on May 1, turned himself in on May 13, was charged with second-degree murder (which carries a five-to-15-year prison term), and posted bail in the amount of $100,000. Meanwhile, Penny’s attorney launched an online fundraising campaign that has already received more than $1.6 million from 25,000 online donors. Penny is due back in court July 17.
Some conservatives and Republicans are posting social media messages that call Penny “a national hero,” including Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who recently tweeted, “We stand with Good Samaritans like Daniel Penny. Let’s show this Marine … America’s got his back.”
Others are protesting Neely’s killing, including New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who called the incident “horrific,” saying, “there have to be consequences.”
In the Biblical parable, Jesus described a good Samaritan as a charitable, compassionate man who unselfishly helped others, especially strangers. “The one who had mercy on him,” was the good Samaritan, Jesus said in Luke 10:37. “Go and do likewise.”
The New Journal and Guide recently scrolled through seven convictions held by high-profile Blacks who have a history of helping others and offers seven tips which may help defuse a mental health episode for yourself or someone you want to help.
Tip No. 1 – Experts advise you to listen to a person who is suffering mental distress.
Ask the distressed person, ‘What’s going on?’ Reflect on what they say. Help them feel heard. You can ask, “How are you doing?” Lean toward the person and make eye contact. Offer support, Mental Health America advises on its website. Speak clearly. Use a calm and non-threatening voice but make sure you also keep an eye on your own safety.
“This a two-sided coin – there is your safety and the safety of the individual you want to provide assistance to,” Dr. Curley L. Bonds, chief medical officer for Los Angeles County’s Department of Mental Health, said in a recent LA Times interview.
“You first want to establish: Is this person having a bad day, or are they in danger of hurting themselves or hurting someone else?” Bonds said. If someone is not doing any self-harm or causing danger to others, but is ‘quietly psychotic,’ he said, referring to a person hearing voices or seeming ‘out of it,’ then intervening may not be the right idea “because that could escalate the situation.”
Trust your own judgment. “You can pretty quickly tell when you make the first entrée whether that person is receptive,” Bonds said.
Tip No. 2 – Get involved with organizations that serve individuals susceptible to mental stress. For example, Barack Obama recently rolled out a new initiative and added new cities to his 9-year-old Chicago-based foundation, My Brother’s Keeper.
“Fight cynicism,” Obama recently told young men of color in Chicago, Newark, Omaha Tulsa and Yonkers. Obama’s foundation has an impressive track record. Most of its members tend to finish high school, get a job, and get involved in their local communities.
“I think my main charge to everyone here is ‘fight cynicism,’ “Obama said in a recent speech at his Chicago-based foundation. “When the work gets hard, or something doesn’t work, don’t get discouraged. Innovate and try something new. Be honest about what is working and what isn’t working, build up trust.”
Tip No. 3 – Deliberately manage your inner voice while someone is having a mental health episode. “Listen to that still, small voice within,” Oprah recently told more than 600 graduates at Tennessee State University during her nearly 20-minute speech at commencement exercises held in Hale Stadium on May 6.
“You’ll begin to know your own heart and figure out what matters most when you can listen to the still small voice,” Winfrey told TSU grads. “Every right move I made has come from listening deeply and following that still small voice.”
Oprah continued, “When you can get quiet enough to listen, you can begin to instill the still small voice which is always representing the truth of you; from the noise of the world.”
Tip No. 4 – Keep it moving. This is the advice that Patti Labelle, age 73, offered to herself during a rough patch that included a crushing diabetes diagnosis in her early 50s after she collapsed onstage, as well as her 2003 divorce from Armstead Edwards.
In 2015, Labelle launched her popular sweet potato pie at Walmart where shoppers are still buying 36,000 pies every single day. Since then, Labelle has debuted three cobblers (apple, peach, and berry), apple pecan cake, and sweet potato loaf – as well as banana bread.
“I want my boomer friends to get on the truck to stay as fabulous as I am,” Labelle said. “Being diagnosed [with diabetes] was a big wake-up call for me. Now I’m very aware of my health, and I tell my friends, ‘Go check yourself before you wreck yourself.’ It’s important for us to know what’s in our bodies and how long we might be able to stay on this planet.”
Tip No. 5 – Continue to break barriers, said former White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett, who worked for the first Black mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, and said she transitioned to the Daley and Obama administrations by “staying cool and breaking barriers.”
In a recent Twitter post, Jarrett said, “Real change is not just a matter of instituting one program or initiative. It’s about bringing the community together to solve the most challenging problems.”
Tip No. 6 – Trust yourself. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, whose resume includes command at the corps, division, battalion, and brigade levels, said he continues to focus on patterns in the post he has held since January 2021.
“History is a willing teacher, when and if we choose to listen to its lessons,” he said in a January 2018 interview with the U.S. Army. “History teaches us that the character of our fights have changed and will continue to change.”
To avoid a mental health episode, trust and respect your hunches. “Today, I see us facing compound threats,” Austin said speaking specifically about the nation’s challenges. “These threats don’t just add up to a bigger sum of a problem facing our forces, but rather are multiplied problem sets that we will have to face and overmatch.”
Austin said, “We have to change our traditional ways of seeing and approaching tooth-to-tail operations,” in a July 2019 interview with The Grio.
Tip No. 7 – Stick to big goals. Washington, D.C, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she keeps it moving during uncertain times by implementing big goals. “I have … learned in my years of leadership that one of the worst things you can do as a leader is waver. You can take time to decide, you can consider, you can even change your mind, but you can’t flip-flop and waver.
Bowser said, “When you make a decision, explain why you did it and then implement it.” She added, “You win by winning.”
Tip No. 8 – Stay in survival mode. Beyoncé looks totally woke in photographs that show her performing in her new world tour. Beyoncé wears an exclusive body suit emblazoned with hands. The body suit was designed by Spanish label Loewe for her 2023 Renaissance World Tour, which debuted in Sweden on May 10. Beyoncé keeps it moving on stage and in real life by staying in survival mode, a feat she learned during the birth of her three children
“I was in survival mode and did not grasp it all until months later,” she said.
“I needed time to heal, to recover,” Beyoncé explained in a 2018 Vogue interview. “During my recovery, I gave myself self-love and self-care, and I embraced being curvier. I accepted what my body wanted to be.”
This means Beyoncé faced the brutal facts during a clear mental health episode. “I was 218 pounds the day I gave birth to Rumi and Sir. I was swollen from toxemia and had been on bed rest for over a month. My health and my babies’ health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section.”
Although Beyoncé looks fit, trim and amped on her new world tour, she sidestepped a mental health episode by taking an honest look at her past.
“When I first started, 21 years ago, I was told that it was hard for me to get onto covers of magazines because Black people did not sell,” Beyoncé said. “Clearly that has been proven a myth. Not only is an African-American on the cover of the most important month for Vogue, this is the first ever Vogue cover shot by an African-American photographer.”
Beyoncé stays in survival mode by opening doors for younger artists. “There are so many cultural and societal barriers to entry,” she said. “I like to do what I can to level the playing field, to present a different point of view for people who may feel like their voices don’t matter.”
Photo by Samson Katt