Busta’s Person of the Week: ‘Mental illness is not a spirit, it’s a disease’

Dr. Donna Chandler Kornegay, LPCS, licensed professional counselor supervisor

Busta’s Person of the Week: ‘Mental illness is not a spirit, it’s a disease’
November 21
06:44 2019

By Busta Brown

November is Mental Illness Awareness Month. My focus in this article is not only for adults, but also about saving our youth. A mentally healthy child will become a successful financially, spiritually, and physically healthy adult. 

Researchers estimate that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Some even say it’s also the leading cause of disability. Mental illness is the number one cause of suicide and in some cases, violent crimes. Some mental health experts say it is also the reason so many youths join gangs. 

My Expert of the Week is Dr. Donna Kornegay, who says, “Mental illness is not a spirit, it’s a disease. We as a black community think that all we have to do is to lay prostrate across the altar and give it to God and it goes away. No, it doesn’t. Prayer is necessary, but we have to also seek professional help as well. If your child has diabetes, you’ll take him to the doctor. We need to do the same with their mental health as well. We must educate ourselves so we can recognize the symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses in ourselves and our children, so they don’t become depressed adults.” 

Dr. Kornegay is a licensed professional counselor supervisor (LPCS). She’s been in the clinical mental health field for 19 years. She received her bachelor’s in psychology from the University of N.C. at Wilmington, her master’s in counselor education at North Carolina Central University, and her doctorate in psychology and counselor education at North Carolina State University. 

Dr. Kornegay is a true people person. “I got into the mental health field because I wanted to work with people with issues and concerns about their life and help them solve it. Our mind and our heart coincide, just as our behavior and emotions coincide. I got in this to help people find that balance, so they can live a physically and mentally healthy life. I believe we all deserve peace, but it takes work to get there,” she said. 

The mother of two, she married at 20 and after eight years, she was a 28-year-old divorcee. That bothered Kornegay and she fell into a depression. “It was a major episode of depressive disorder. That took me down and broke me into a million pieces. I thought I’d never ever return to the person I thought I was supposed to be.” 

Kornegay turned that pain into motivation. “I had nowhere to go, no one to talk to, and I felt lost. I didn’t want anyone to experience that kind of pain and confusion alone, especially people of color. We need to know we’re not alone in this battle against depressive disorder and that it’s not taboo. And like any physical illness, mental illness needs to be treated as well. So, I went back to get my doctorate in psychology and counselor education so I can help people mend themselves back into a complete person. After my divorce, I felt hopeless, isolated and alone, and no one should feel like that. I do this so people have somewhere to go.” 

Dr. Kornegay is now at the top of her game and her passion to help and heal people is even greater. She’s also developed a special place in her heart for youth. “So many of our youth are suffering from this thing called suicide. So I’m on a mission more than ever to get the information out there about mental illness and suicide. We have to have more conversations about this in the black communities so we can recognize the signs. Parents need to watch for aggression, irritability, and believe it or not, drug use,” said Kornegay. 

She went on to say, if a child is depressed, they try to medicate that mood so that they’re not feeling depressed. “It makes them feel invincible and that they can control depression. As the depression increases, the drug use increases. Another sign is, they do things they typically would never do, like aggressive behavior. If your child has always been mild mannered and now that child is verbally and physically aggressive, that’s a sign of depression and suicidal behavior. Change in sleep, moods, of not caring about anything anymore, and no concerns about the future. Watch for a change in their appetite and changes in social groups. Hanging around people they wouldn’t normally affiliate with. Another sign is when they start giving away their things, as if they’re saying good-bye. These are all signs of depression and suicidal behavior,” she said. 

Dr. Kornegay also shared that some children start drug use as early as in elementary school. “Kids as young as eight years are now using drugs and feeling if they died today, it’s OK. They’re getting drugs from their peers at school and while on the school bus. Some kids are literally high and falling asleep in the classrooms. Because some teachers don’t know the signs, they’ll say things like, ‘Get your sleep at home.’ They’re not just using marijuana, some have used cocaine, LSD, you name it, these kids have access to it. So please look for these signs and then immediately get your child some professional help.”

I asked Dr. K, other than medications, how can we help children with depression. “Plenty of exercise will help release endorphins, which help bring about feelings of euphoria and general well-being. Eating healthy and taking at least 30 minutes to themselves.” 

I asked her to share advice for parents with a mental illness who are raising a child with a mental illness as well. “Children tend to look at behavior and not listen to words. So if you’re actively seeking help for your mental disorder, they will see you doing a thing, and they won’t be ashamed to do the same. They won’t be ashamed to get help, because they see you as being proactive in taking care of your mental status. Our children do as we do, not necessarily as we say. And it’s a great idea for those parents and their child to go to a therapist together.” 

I also asked her to give some advice to educators who teach children with a mental illness. “Educate yourselves so you can recognize the mood changes in your students. If they become more aggressive, disruptive, and acting out in ways that’s not normal of that student, it’s a clear sign of drug use, depression, and suicidal behavior. So do not bring attention to their behavior in front of their peers. Your students need to trust you and feel safe in your presence.” 

Lastly, I asked Doc to leave all of us with some advice. “When you take care of yourself first, you are then able to take care of others. Doing it in reverse will only make you mess things up more than it is and not allow you to complete what you’re trying to do. It’s similar to you can’t love anyone until you love yourself first.” 

I hope this information has helped you tremendously. I believe the first step to complete peace is getting past our denial that we have a mental health disorder. It’s OK if we do. That’s why God created and anointed mental health professionals like Dr. Donna Kornegay. 

For more information and to contact Dr. K, visit or call, 919-424-6504.

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