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Outside the House: How 1 Documentary Sheds Light on Mental Health in the Black Community

Illustration for article titled iOutside the House:/i How 1 Documentary Sheds Light on Mental Health in the Black Community

There’s a saying in the black community that what goes on inside the house shouldn’t be taken outside the house, and mental health has always been the secret many black people didn’t take outside. In Darnell Lamont Walker’s documentary Outside the House, he’s breaking down the barriers and stigmas when it comes to black people discussing their mental-health issues, and confronting the problem head-on.

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Walker didn’t set out to become a documentary filmmaker. But when the television-casting professional started noticing that black people around him, either friends or associates, were committing suicide at an alarming rate, he wanted to open up a dialogue about mental-health issues in the black community.

“I was inspired by a culmination over the last few years,” Walker told The Root. “When I was in college, I had a friend kill himself sophomore year. And over the years, I can think of four friends who’ve committed suicide. And couple that with my friends who are depressed and dealing with anxiety, and my own depression, I needed to let more people know they are not alone in the struggle.”

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Walker, a Bethune Cookman University and Howard University graduate who is currently living in Johannesburg, says that during his travels and while talking on camera about a friend who committed suicide, it finally hit him that the project was something he wanted to work on.

“I just went around interviewing people, and found people who were willing to talk about their mental health,” Walker said of the participants in the documentary.

Going back to the title of the film, Walker spoke about the aspect of “not sharing secrets” outside the house, saying it brought back people’s memories, and the realization of where trauma began and the false sense of resilience.

When it came to finding participants for the film, Walker used social media, of course, from a simple Facebook post that started with two comments, eventually spiraling to hundreds.

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“People hit me up in my inbox, saying that they wanted to help,” Walker said. “It was to my surprise; people opened up really quickly.”

Over the last couple of years, there have been many efforts to get black people to speak more openly about their mental health. In the film, the stories that are told may sound familiar to many people—from a couple discussing their own mental-health issues and choosing other options rather than having a biological child of their own, out of fear of passing on those problems, to a woman who never opened up about her mental-health challenges, which she kept hidden from her family.

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Walker said that during the interview process, he did not realize how much other people’s stories could help strangers, and then the day came when he released the film.

“About 45 minutes before I released the film online, I announced the release, and one of the participants contacted me. I was so afraid that she would ask to be taken out of it. But she said, if it’s going to help others, she would just deal with it somehow,” Walker said. “There were parts in the film that she never told anyone, but she realized the bigger picture: that lives could be saved.”

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Walker’s film is raw and gritty on purpose. He said that he knew it wouldn’t take much to achieve what he wanted; he used crowdfunding for the film. That raised a little over $1,500, and the rest came out of Walker’s own pocket. He also taught himself how to score and edit.

Walker succeeded in creating a conversation about black mental health, and even moments before our conversation, he received an email that touched him about an 8-year-old black kid in Cincinnati who hanged himself in January.

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“I want people to know that they are not alone. And the issues might be slightly different, but it’s important to realize there are other people out there going through similar issues with mental health,” he said. “I want people to know that help is out there. Real courage is letting yourself be vulnerable and getting the help you need.”

Outside the House is currently being submitted to various film festivals but is available for viewing here.

Bye, Kinja! It's been fun (occasionally).

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DISCUSSION

Very interested to watch this. Mental health still has a huge stigma attached to it and this phenomenon is much more pronounced in communities of color. From my work in substance use, we see a lot of people who turn to substance use as a means of managing their primary diagnosis of mental illness or those who develop co-occurring disorders. The comorbidity of mental illness and substance use is high. In addition, access to treatments and supports (as well as healthcare in general) has always been difficult (if not downright denied) to non-white people. Traditionally, treatment programs in communities of color are underfunded and understaffed. When the ACA was passed it eliminated underwriting that prevented people from accessing mental health treatment because of their medical history. Mental health and substance use treatment became essential health benefits. States that passed the Medicaid Expansion under the ACA also created a deeper safety net for people with mental illness. The impact of the ACA and the Medicaid Expansion meant that more people of color had access to mental health treatment. I saw this firsthand and am still seeing the impact today.

The repeal of the ACA will have drastic repercussions on people with mental illness and will disproportionately affect people of color. It will pull the rug out from under them and will directly effect their livelihood.

So, after you read this make sure you call your Members of Congress and tell them not to repeal the ACA because you appreciate the mental health coverage.