It’s a G Thing: Hakeem Rahim hopes to break mental health stigma

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Hakeem Rahim isn’t shy when it comes to talking about his mental illness.

“I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder,” Rahim said. "I went from Harvard University to being locked in a psychiatric ward.”

However, this diagnosis no longer defines him.

“I still experience depression, anxiety," he said. "But if you can talk about it, you can get the help that you need, recovery, wellness is possible."

Twenty years ago, a solution didn’t seem that simple.

It all started a few months after graduating as his high school’s first African-American valedictorian in 1998. He was 17 years old and a freshman at Harvard University.

"First three weeks into Campus I had an anxiety attack,” he said.

Manic episodes and deep bouts of depression followed. By his sophomore year, his family finally got him medical help.

“I started taking three types of medications and I gained 60 pounds,” he said.

But inside, Hakeem began feeling better. He found a balance between pills, therapy and exercise, all of which helped him get back on track.

“I still deal with depression, I still deal with anxiety but part of my growth and my work is knowing the signs,” he said.

But not everyone knows what to look for.  One in 5 American adults experience mental illness in a given year, yet more than 55 percent never receive treatment.

“Depression is one of the leading causes of disability in society we know that,” said Dr. Rafael Braga.

Dr. Rafael Braga is an outpatient psychologist at Zucker Hillside Hospital — and has devoted his entire career to helping understand and eliminate the stigma.

“That is a huge part of it, the other part of it for us the psychologist community and research community to try and do a better job in trying to find the culprit, the reasons why the symptoms exists and what to do to treat them better,” Braga said.

Rahim agrees. Which is why he spends most of his time educating people across the country through his book of poems and his nonprofit, I Am Acceptance.

Through his nonprofit, he's reached more than 50,000 grade school and college students.

Rahim says his messages are:

1. it’s okay to talk about what you’re going through,

2.There’s no shame in seeking help and

3. If you’re diagnosed with a mental illness, there’s hope