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Long Island Man Helping Minorities Fight Stigma That Comes With Discussions About Mental Health

HEMPSTEAD, LONG ISLAND (CBSNewYork) -- July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and with everything from the pandemic to the fight against racial injustice, many people are at the breaking point and experts say support is needed.

Hempstead, Long Island native Mike Veny had behavioral problems from a very young age. He attempted suicide for the first time as a 10-year-old. Veny would later learn he was suffering from depression.

"I just wanted the pain to go away. A lot of times the people who are struggling just simply want the pain to go away. I had a solution," Veny told CBS2's Cindy Hsu on Monday. "Between seventh grade and 10th grade, three extended mental hospitalizations, suicide attempts, self harming, violent at home with my behavior. It was really difficult."

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His family kept everything a secret, which is common when it comes to mental illness, especially in communities of color.

"We are cultures of honor, meaning we don't like to get disrespected," said Veny. "And sometimes when it comes to mental health and discovering that we have a challenge, we feel like we're disrespecting ourselves by even acknowledging it."

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says one study showed that 63% of African-Americans believe a mental health condition is a personal sign of weakness. Now with the pandemic, economic crisis and civil rights reckoning, nearly everyone is feeling stress and anxiety. After George Floyd's killing the Census Bureau found more than 40% of black Americans screening positive for anxiety or depression.

Veny is now fighting the stigma around mental health. He travels the country as an advocate and shares his story, and has written the book Transforming Stigma. While it can still be challenging to find mental health experts of color, companies like Therapy in Color and the self-help app Shine are changing that. Around 90% of Shine's content is voiced by black Women.

"If you simply go on Google and just type in 'mental health symptoms and mental health treatment,' there are so many resources out there," said Veny.

The key, he said, is we need to embrace difficult emotions.

"When you actually address it head on it will actually improve your chances of success in life. It will actually strengthen your character. It will grow you as a person," Veny said.

And when we speak out, it will help the many who are suffering in silence.

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