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Experiences help those with mental health issues
The Daily Record - 6/30/2020
The new president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Summit County is not a health care professional.
But his interest in mental health care and mission to remove the stigma related to mental illness that remains prevalent among most African Americans is born of personal experience and communal compassion.
“I’ve been involved in mental health for more than 20 years because I have a family member who had a psychotic break and I’ve spent a lot of money trying to help him,” said Robert Hunt. “Next thing [you] know, I was seeking help and at that point I just went from there,” Hunt said.
The North Akron projects native and Hower Vocational High School graduate earned his master’s degree in communication from the University of Akron and an MBA from Baldwin Wallace. He is retired from the Ford Motor Co. where he worked as a diversity trainer
Hunt’s son, a math whiz with a 4.+ GPA who was voted most likely to succeed in his high school senior class, was chairman of the National Association of Black Accountants and one of state Sen. Vernon Sykes’ pages while a student at Ohio State University.
One day in 2000, Hunt got a call from the school saying they couldn’t locate his son. He was found at a hospital in Harlem.
“I called the Harlem hospital, I said ‘you’re supposed to have my son,’ and they say ‘well, he’s in the psych ward’ and I said, ‘well, you don’t have my son’ and I just hung up,” Hunt said.
It took a call from another son to convince Hunt that his son was in need. When he and his wife flew to Harlem, their son told them he had been hearing voices.
“I said, man. ‘Voices? What are you talking about?’ I wasn’t used to any of that and definitely not with an A-type who wants to accomplish and always wants to do things. I was, ‘Hey man, get it together, pull yourself together and let’s go,’” Hunt said.
Rather than seek help for his sons’ mental issues, Hunt threw money at the problem. A lot of money.
“Man, I spent every dime I had trying to fix it myself. It was to the point where my wife told me, ‘I love you but we have to divide our cash because you’re going to take me down the drain with you,’ ” he said with a chuckle.
Finally, he sought help from a mental health care professional in Cleveland who diagnosed his son with schizophrenia, which Hunt said he was only familiar with from movies and thought his son was harboring multiple personalities in his troubled brain.
“It means a split mind, not split personalities, and I really had to get educated,” he said.
That’s when Hunt was introduced to NAMI and he and his wife got certified as family-to-family trainers. As for his son, “he’s doing better, but he still has the challenges of confusion. Is he better than what he was? Yes. Does he still have a ways to go? Yes,” he said.
Inspired by his ongoing experience with his son, Hunt found a new personal mission.
“I started walking in the community handing out pamphlets and doing what I could because I didn’t want people to go through what I went through. I want people to know that there is help out there,” he said.
Hunt also runs his own training and consulting company, Hunt Corp.Industries LLC, which has worked extensively with various Summit County departments and local businesses. Hunt also works at Oriana House as a resident supervisor working with groups to help folks get “back on the right life track” and training others to do the same.
Hunt grew up with the stigma surrounding mental illness common in the African American communities and the reluctance to address it in their lives and families.
“That’s where I saw that the void is in mental health and every time I brought it up, people would shy away and they didn’t want to face that particular thing, even though their family member may have been going through depression or PTSD,” Hunt said.
When out in the various communities, Hunt said there’s a shame and embarrassment factor that people can’t seem to shake.
“People say ‘I don’t’ want them to know that I went to a psychiatrist or psychologist because they’ll think less of me,’ ” he said.
Hunt recalls that as with many African American parents seeking upward mobility for their children, his mother told him he always had to be twice as good to impress, mindful of how he carried himself and who he hung out with and not be seen as someone who can’t deal with life’s difficulties.
“That’s why the stigma is still there through racism and how we deal with certain things out in the community. It’s how society views us as a whole and how we view each other and not just African Americans,” Hunt said.
So how to shake a stigma that has permeated African American culture for decades? How to convince people that needing and seeking help is not a sign of inner weakness or just being a “crazy” person?
“We break through [the stigma] with communication. We break through by breaking the silence. Find out more about it instead of sweeping it under the carpet because that’s not going to help us at all,” he said.
Hunt said only 25 percent of African Americans seek out mental health compared to 40 percent of white Americans.
“Check this out, the number of Black children ages 5 to 12 who have died by suicide had doubled since 1990,” he said.
“This is a national crisis. Mental illness is something we have to address by talking about it. Many times, Black families are fearful of being characterized as weak or inadequate, so we keep it to ourselves. I’m not keeping it to my self. I’m on the front lines, I don’t mind,” Hunt said.
CREDIT: BY MALCOLM X ABRAM AKRON BEACON JOURNAL