Dealing with Mental Health While Black

Dear black community,

We need to talk.

“Pray about it” “Your ancestors endured much worse. You’ll survive” “Ain’t nothing wrong with you. Go lay down” Mental health is a topic often ignored within the black community. Depression is often seen as one “being dramatic” and visits to the doctor often unnecessary. We would rather not talk about it than to see a therapist and “put our business out in the streets.” We would kick our own blood out on the street corner for being gay, but won’t confront the pervert uncle who suffers many mental diseases. We would rather remain silent about issues than to bring them to light, and that is a large problem within the black community. Now, I’m not saying that this is true with every family of color, but in a vast majority the stigma surrounding mental illness remains prevalent.

“Historical adversity, which includes slavery, sharecropping and race-based exclusion from health, educational, social and economic resources, translates into socioeconomic disparities experienced by African Americans today. Socioeconomic status, in turn, is linked to mental health: People who are impoverished, homeless, incarcerated or have substance abuse problems are at higher risk for poor mental health.” (menalhealthamerica.net). Once again, systemic oppression affects another area of black life. So, if black people are extremely prone to mental illness, why is it that we aren’t likely to seek help? According to Mental Health America, and my own  personal experience, “Despite progress made over the years, racism continues to have an impact on the mental health of Black/African Americans. Negative stereotypes and attitudes of rejection have decreased, but continue to occur with measurable, adverse consequences. Historical and contemporary instances of negative treatment have led to a mistrust of authorities, many of whom are not seen as having the best interests of Black/African Americans in mind.” Because we don’t trust-we don’t discuss. The black community has developed a sense of pride to cover pain. Hyper-masculinity, and the “angry black woman” stereotype hender us from opening up. But the truth is that it is okay to have feelings, and seeking help doesn’t make you “soft”. Mental health needs to become an open discussion in the black community. We need to address it because if we don’t, we will suffer as a whole. Statistically speaking:

“According to the US HHS Office of Minority Health [3]:

  • Adult Black/African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites.
  • Adult Black/African Americans living below poverty are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty.
  • Adult Black/African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites.
  • And while Black/African Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, Black/African Americans teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers (8.3 percent v. 6.2 percent).”

With a system built to hold us down, the last thing we need is to hender ourselves further. Start talking about it. Parents- discuss and check on your children’s mental health. We are taught to be twice as good to get half of what non-black people get, and we get so stuck on excelling in other areas that we often forget that in order to advance in these areas, we must be mentally stable. Children-talk to your parents, a councilor, etc. If you are hurting, let someone know. You aren’t being dramatic. Your pain is valid. Just because it isn’t a physical ailment doesn’t mean it isn’t an illness.

“At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.” -Michelle Obama

sources:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/african-american-mental-health

                           “Black & African American Communities and Mental Health.” Mental Health America. N.p., 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 08 June 2017.                          

Picture: botswanayouth.com

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