I want us to actually get to a point where mental illness in the Black community isn’t a shock or a surprise to anyone at all. I want us to get to a point where it is simply viewed an overall health issue.
I’ve lived with mental illness since I was 18-years-old and I can tell you that the ignorance surrounding mental illness in the Black community is real. A lot of us are not even fully aware that we are ignorant, simply because we have failed to have been taught that mental illness is not a “white issue,” but an overall health issue. I think I am the first person in my family to openly express my mental health struggles and for people to be witness to it as well. I am sure there are others, but we have been taught as a community to hide what we don’t know or we are afraid of. But how can we openly help others when we are shying away from discussing something that is so prevalent in all families?
I spoke to my therapist yesterday and she did her own research on mental illness in the Black community and how we are affected. She was surprised to find out that her own research matched what I was telling her about stigma. She said to me, “Bria, all those terms such as ‘mad’ and ‘crazy’ are terms that you have been brought up to say,” and in a sense, she is correct.
Luckily, I do come from a very supportive household, but mental illness is a hush, hush conversation for a lot of us Black folk, even to this day. I’ve heard ludicrous things like, “Suicidal thoughts will send me to hell” and “A strong Black woman fights through depression.”
I no longer want to hear this in any Black household. Like ever again.
Because illness can affect anyone whether mental or not, and treating mental illness as something that lacks significance and value may cause a lot of people who are struggling to hide away instead of speaking out.
I want us to get to the point where we are enthusiastic about learning about depression and mental illness in general, because being in the know is where we can support others.
Being in the know will not allow your aunt, friend, sister, or cousin to hide her prescription instead of taking it.
Depression and mental illness takes lives.
According to the Huffington Post Canada:
“For African, Caribbean and black (ACB) Canadians, the struggle for mental health is often a silent one. With misunderstandings within the community around what mental illness means and barriers that prevent individuals from accessing help or safe spaces, dealing with depression, anxiety and other disorders becomes challenging and complicated.”
Every 40 seconds someone kills themselves as a result of suicide, and a Black individual can be among those as well.
I think as a community we shy away from what we think is not that important, illness that is viewed on television or heard about in the news, but the actuality of it happening to someone you know or worse, yourself, seems unfathomable, unrealistic.
But I never thought mental illness could happen to me, a young Black woman, but it has.
I’ve had some really fucked up experiences when it comes to mental health but these experiences have given me a story, knowledge that I can share with others in regards to mental health.
You never know when you may encounter a friend or loved one who deals with depression or suicidal thoughts for instance and instead of getting frustrated and judging, here them out and understand their story.
Understand that you to sympathize with pain you cannot comprehend instead of jumping to conclusions. Living with a mental illness is not easy. It affects functioning, enjoyment of life, daily living and socialization amongst people.
So mental illness is not a white thing or a “thing” at all. It’s a serious health concern that should be taken just as seriously as high blood pressure, cancer, or lung disease.
So the next time you bring up mental illness at the dinner table, I want you to fully be embraced and for everyone around you to be in the know. Please be aware and informed. As a community, we need to research and do better when it comes to understanding mental illness.
It could save a life.