This week, Emmy award-winning actor Courtney B. Vance and Dr. Robin Smith joined Candace McDuffie, Senior Writer at The Root, for a panel discussion on mental health and the Black community at the Root Institute in Washington, D.C.
According to Mental Health America, mental health issues impact the Black community at nearly the same rate as others. But factors like the cost and the stigma associated with obtaining treatment can be a barrier for some African Americans trying to get the help they need. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 46 percent of whites with mental illness received mental health services in 2015, compared to 30 percent of Blacks and 27 percent of Hispanics.
During the panel, Vance, who lost both his father and nephew to suicide, shared the story of his struggle to find a therapist to help him deal with his feelings. Vance was 30-years-old when his father took his own life after dealing with depression. And at the time of his passing, Vance says he didn’t know he needed to talk to someone. He only decided to give it a try after his mother encouraged him and his sister to do so. “She said when you go back to your respective cities, find a good therapist and start talking,” he said.
But a good therapist was hard for the actor to find, who says it took him a few tries to end up with someone who made him feel comfortable. But Vance, who is known for his roles in The Preacher’s Wife and as Johnnie Cochran in FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, says that when he found the right one, something special happened. “We started working on my dreams, and it absolutely changed my life.”
Vance says he never paid attention to his dreams until his therapist told him to start accessing them. And he credits Gayle Delaney and her book “Breakthrough Dreaming,” which offers techniques for dream interpretation to enhance creativity and help deal with problems, with helping him get there.
Vance said his therapist challenged him in their sessions to be patient, something that would eventually help him in his relationships with wife, actress Angela Bassett and their children. “She asked me if I had the patience to let the mud settle in the water and let the water become clear? But at the time, I didn’t know how to just sit,” he said.
“She asked me how I made decisions. And I said, like acting, I just make a choice. She told me ‘that’s good for acting, but for life it’s deadly, potentially.’ Sometimes you don’t know what to do, and you have to just stand. I can’t control any of that. The first three years of marriage are tough. And I almost messed it up because I was trying to change her. I realized, she’s fine. You’ve got to get yourself together.”
The actor, who has been open about the positive impact therapy has had on his life, told the audience that everyone can benefit from therapy. “I think we all need to find a good person to chit chat with and just like we tune up our cars, we need to tune up ourselves,” he said. “Ain’t nobody else gonna help us if we don’t help ourselves.”