Education, Health

Why Juneteenth: Educate & Mental Health

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela

Juneteenth and Why We Celebrate!

It was January 1, 1863. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring all enslaved persons in Confederate states – free. However, Lincoln’s order did not fully abolish slavery in the United States. There were states, such as Texas, that continued to uphold slavery. Some people were still considered property in other states bordering Confederate states. Slaveholders in Texas kept the information about the Emancipation to themselves – extending the brutal treatment of enslaved African Americans. It was not until 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, that it was made known to formerly enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. Word of the end of the Civil War and the freedom of enslaved people did not reach Galveston, Texas until June 19, 1865. Major General Gordan Granger wrote an order * informing all that the Civil War was officially over – and that enslaved people everywhere were now free. The following year, on June 19, 1866, the first celebration of Juneteenth, recognizing freedom from slavery, was held in the United States.

Juneteenth is considered the longest-running holiday in African American communities. The holiday is often commemorated with community celebrations and activities. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 after the United States Congress passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

Juneteenth: An Opportunity to Support Black Mental Health

A few important factors crucial to improving the mental health care of our African American communities include ensuring easier access to care and having more mental health providers who are African American.  Especially those who understand important cultural factors impacting families of color. Some of the factors that increase the likelihood of those seeking help include an informed medical diagnosis of symptoms, informed systems of care, trauma-informed care, and the interconnectedness of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Based on IU School of Medicine 2022 America’s Health Rankings, Indiana is 35th in the nation in overall health and ranks 42nd when it comes to mental health. Indiana is ranked 2nd as the most depressed state in the country. Of adults with any mental health who received services, African Americans represented 39% of those who sought help. Health and risk factors such as cancer and infant mortality rates are immensely higher among African American families. These factors impact mental health. IU School of Medicine and other providers in Indiana are committed to increasing access and reducing barriers to services and treatment – especially for those most vulnerable due to economics, race, or ability to access care due to location. Everyone can support mental health awareness!

The Historical Impact on the Mental Health of African Americans:

The history of the enslavement of African people and those born in the United States continues to have a generational impact on people endowed with strength, pride, resilient brilliance, and creativity. The historical roots of inhumanity placed on enslaved people included not being considered fully human, the denial of familial bonds and relationships, and physical, emotional, and mental atrocities that have impacted the mental health of communities of Black people for hundreds of years. Even after slavery was abolished, this country’s systems of governing and practice limited access and full inclusion into what it means to fully participate in the rights and privileges of United States citizenship – even as little as 60 years ago. Systemic practices of limitations or exclusion based on race have a long-term impact on society as a whole and cost the United States billions of dollars each year.

“Our responsibility as citizens is to address the inequalities and injustices that linger, and we must secure our birthright freedoms for all people.” – Barack Obama

*Read the General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston. June 19, 1865 

“The people of Texas are informed that, by a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

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