Mental health focus of forum

Activist: African-Americans often resist seeking treatment

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    Mental Health Services marks its 45th anniversary this month. The center won't be celebrating, due to a looming 15 percent cut in its budget

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  • Katrina Furr-Hoffman insists the African-American community is in the “dark ages” when it comes to mental health issues. The 40-year-old mother of seven children speaks from personal experience.

    Ms. Furr-Hoffman suffered for years from mood disorders and depression. Her family, however, never encouraged her to seek treatment. Instead she was told to go to church and pray about it.

    “My family are church people who are mostly blue collar. They didn’t know the effects it would have on me, and they didn’t know how to cope with it,” she said.

    This resistance by some in the community to seek help from medical professionals is the driving force behind the first African American Forum on Mental Health Awareness that will be held Wednesday at the First Alliance Church, 2201 Monroe St., from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The event will be held annually.

    The forum, “Breaking the Silence on Mental Illness in the African American Community: How Long Will We Remain Silent?,” is free and open to the public.

    Ms. Furr-Hoffman, who is also a mental health coordinator for Toledo Area Ministries, will be one of the presenters. She hopes that by telling her story, she can help others understand the benefits of treating mental illness.

    With treatment, she was able to turn what she called a “broken child” into a fully functioning adult. Now her 15-year-old son has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and her fight continues to keep him from being misunderstood by his teachers, the police, and the juvenile courts.

    Young African-American men are more likely to be looked upon as having conduct disorders or more likely to be looked upon as bad kids, when many times they are suffering from depression, said Larry Hamme, the chief clinical officer at Unison Behavioral Health Group.

    The Toledo Police Department has been interested in breaking this cycle, Mr. Hamme said, noting that Chief Derrick Diggs has been working to get as many officers as possible into the Crisis Intervention Training offered by the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

    Robin Isenberg, the executive director of NAMI, offers two crisis intervention classes to law enforcement officials per year, and they are always full, she said. This is a positive step in the right direction. but she admits work still needs to be done when African-Americans with mental illness comprise 40 percent of the homeless population and half the prisoners in the criminal justice system.

    “Our mental health system in America is broken,” Ms. Isenberg said. “We used to have mental health hospitals, and they closed those state hospitals many years ago because they thought it was better to mainstream people and give them access to mental health services in the community.”

    Now, the jail is probably the biggest mental health institution in Lucas County, she said.

    Chief Diggs will be one of the presenters during the forum along with representatives from area prosecutors’ offices; Romules Durant, superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, and representatives of families dealing with mental health issues.

    Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at: or 419-724-6091.