PSA: Mental Illness IS Black and White

After my last guest post blew up like it did, it was brought to my attention–and realized by me–that I should’ve made the topic of mental illness in the Black community its own individual post.

That’s what it deserves.

I’ve tried my best to not be offensive in any way, and to cover as much as possible. Please, enlighten me on anything I’ve missed.

I’ve never been diagnosed with any type of mental illnesses; I’d like to get that out right now. But I still want to advocate our community into getting help when it’s needed. I have my own experiences where I’ve sought help for the darker times in my life, but wasn’t given the appropriate kind of response when other Black peers and adults were involved.

Once–after a breakup that weighed heavy on my heart, body, and mentality for around 8 months–I opened up about that time in my life to someone years later. How I carried pills with me in case a moment came where I snapped under the consistent pressure and heart-aching battle with myself. How I cried myself to sleep many nights, and couldn’t fathom moving an inch out of bed the next morning. I was told I should’ve prayed about it. I could’ve helped and had control over how I felt if I truly wanted to. As if I wanted to feel as dark, weighted, worthless, fatigued, and miserable as I did.

Another time, I got really down for weeks, and it wouldn’t go away. I got to a point where I was literally scared of the very rare times I was having a good day or moment, because I knew the downward spiral back to that dark place would soon follow. I dreaded it, and was so, so tired. So I sought help from the free campus counseling, secretly.

But I was caught.

I was caught, and the person who caught me was hurt. They believed it was something I’d be able to talk out to feel better, but when I couldn’t even name the source of my sadness I was just called spoiled.

I had made the appointment but was hounded and instigated nonstop until I canceled it. They felt relieved, but I felt even worse. These somber anecdotes I’ve shared are not for pity, but to have something to relate to; I want you all to know you’re not alone. And although my experiences aren’t the most severe, my eyes have been opened to others’ struggles from all different backgrounds and cultures. It’s this type of behavior that needs to be made aware of by everyone. Truly, people in our lives love us, but sometimes they don’t know how to love some of us right.

I feel that especially in the Black community, we’re taught that we’re strong and can power through all trials and adversity. And I agree, we as a people persevere through a lot… But we are still human. We don’t always make it out of adversity unharmed, and when we don’t we’re usually told to pray or suck it up.

I love prayer and communicating spiritually, but it seems like taboo topics such as mental illnesses are assumed to be quickly cured with consistent prayer or a more affirmative “blackness” (whatever that means…), and you’re just overreacting when you don’t just “get better” as is expected of you.

When it’s more serious situations such as deaths or tragedies, our grieving is respected, but hardly talked about. Sometimes people don’t know where to turn, or how to bounce back just enough to cope with the days ahead, and I believe it’s because of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses that the topic stays hidden as if it’s an embarrassment.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for many people to be ignorant about mental illnesses; it’s something that lacks understanding in many communities. It personally took me almost two decades before I truly grasped the severity of this issue, and the enlightenment came from a teen magazine.

There was a feature on a female Black teen who suffered from mental illnesses. She self-harmed, and when her family found out, they were concerned about the amount of time she spent around white people. They belittled her situation and dismissed her pain and cries for help as simple as a common head cold. “You’re acting up like those white kids you’re always around. And you can’t even tell me WHY you’re doing something so stupid? Just stop letting them influence you, and try to stay away if you can. You’ll be fine then.”
*pat pat* and off they go. Problem solved in their eyes.

But it’s not. Nowhere near. The stigma still exists and so does the lack of help. Bet let’s not keep this one-dimensional, as if not one Black people asks for help due to denial or wanting to keep their problems to themselves. Sometimes we reach out for help, but it still just doesn’t feel like enough. This brings to light that strong Black souls can be broken, and that’s okay (in order to treat and support, not okay to exist in my book). But mental illnesses do exist, and there’s not enough talk about attempting to improve mental health in multiple ways that are long-term.

While putting the finishing touches on this article and my own post back on my blog about this topic, I sighed at the heaviness of it. I was asked what was wrong, and explained what I was writing about. The response was “that’s because Black people don’t really go through those issues.”

If that doesn’t say we need to spread awareness and support, I don’t know what does.
But enough about me in this article, I want this to be a vessel of information for you. Here are sources and advice for when you’re seeking help in a hard situation:

International Suicide Prevention Hotline: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Ask around on campus about free counseling services.
If you need help pushing yourself toward help, find anyone you trust and believe would support you in getting help. Even a professor or old high school teacher.

Teen Health and Wellness Internationally for ALL kinds of mental illnesses: http://www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines

BGN’s Podcast on Mental Illnesses in the Black Community: http://blackgirlnerds.com/bgnpodcast-in-case-you-missed-it-mental-illness-in-the-black-community/

Ebony Article on Mental Health in the Black Community (2012): http://www.ebony.com/wellness-empowerment/black-folks-and-mental-health-610#axzz3WbP9gcAd

Kevin Breel’s TED Talk About Depression for Comics: http://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_breel_confessions_of_a_depressed_comic?language=en

My Own Throwback Thursday Blog Post In Memory of Karyn Washington with links (up on the blog by April 9th, 2015): http://bit.ly/MentalHealthForBlacks

These are all links that inspired me to write this post, and helped me power-through this mini novel. I pray it hits each of my readers in a positive way, and thank you so so much for getting this far.

Stay strong.

Featured Image from Pixabay / Posted April 9, 2015
Cierra is the creator of ditchingadulthood.com, a supportive blog community for adults with unconventional interests and passions such as art, cartoons, anime, video games, and the like. In her spare time she enjoys writing, creating art, reading, studying Korean and Japanese, and cooking. Coconut Chobani makes her knees buckle.

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