May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Addressing mental health concerns is equally as important as tending to one’s physical condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines mental health as inclusive of a person’s “emotional, psychological, and social well-being.” On the CDC’s website, it was noted that “depression increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.”
Since serving our country can heighten mental health stressors, it is also an ideal time to shine the light on our veterans. Edward Sledge Jr. is a disabled United States Army veteran and author who resides in Columbia, Maryland. In 2021, he penned his first book called “The Story of Christina and I” with his high school sweetheart and wife, Christina Sledge. The co-founder of Sledge House Media who pens books and screenplays describes these activities as “therapeutic.” Sledge lives with a narcolepsy diagnosis. The sleep disorder is tied to military service.
“Being a soldier, you don’t get a lot of sleep, so you get sleep deprived,” Edward said, explaining that sleep tests revealed that he is narcoleptic. “We go on with our daily lives thinking that we’re soldiers, that’s what we have to do, and don’t worry about it. But really, we’re hurting ourselves… but we don’t recognize that… because we’re serving our country.”
Edward mentioned other stressors such as navigation through military family life, deaths in the military, a spouse not being onboard with accessing help because of feeling concerned about the stigma of needing help, single parents needing others to care for their children during deployment, and simply being away from home as a single soldier.
Upbringing can prevent a person from taking advantage of the military’s resources, due to stigma, Edward explained. He was reared in Brooklyn, New York’s projects.
“So it was never a cool thing to go say ‘I need help, especially with helping me with my mind, or talking to someone like a therapist or something like that,” Edward said. “It’s nothing wrong with going to seek help and resources to help you, because sooner or later if you don’t, it’s going to catch up with you and you could’ve stopped it or known what was going on from the beginning.
Edward began connecting additional dots about his life, while preparing to write “The Story of Christina and I” with his coauthor.
He remarked that his late mother was schizophrenic and committed suicide. She reportedly self-medicated to get through her pregnancy by doing drugs when he was in her womb.
“So I was already kind of in that stress mode,” Edward said. “When she committed suicide, I was in her arms as a six-month year-old baby.”
Even in a work setting, he has informed employers that he is a disabled veteran who takes medication. Sometimes taking a breath and calming down is needed to decompress. The perceptive veteran turns to his spouse for support in life.
Dr. Christina Edmondson— a Nashville, Tennessee based author, psychologist, and anti-racist educator— explained that men who are married have a greater likelihood of utilizing medical services in general.
“It is important for us to pay attention to the ways that supportive marriages and partnerships can reinforce mental health service acquisition and compliance for Black men,” Edmondson said.
She also confirmed that Black people historically seek mental health treatment less. Racism is a top reason. However, databases such as Therapy for Black Men provide listings of therapists who are “committed to culturally competent mental health services for Black men.”
“Additionally, men who are insured or get care through the VA (Veterans Affairs) can ask for listings from their insurance providers for counselors of color. When calling to schedule or screen a therapist, people can ask questions about the racial make-up of their caseload, specific course work on the care of Black men, and philosophy of mental health care, for example,” Edmondson said.
One manner of showing more love to each other in the Black community might be normalizing getting mental health help. Sledge and his wife’s willingness to share pieces of their lives through their memoir illustrates the power of a loving bond.
“When community influencers like elders, barbers, pastors, and celebrities talk about the benefits of therapy it chips away at stigma,” Edmondson said. “Also, speaking about the importance of “brain health” is incredibly important. Often we can easily make the case for caring for our hearts but our brains are also just as important.”
Please visit www.sledgehousemedia.com to learn more about the Sledge’s book. Locate Edmondson via www.christinaedmondson.com.