There are many an article that talks about mental illness being a silent killer in black communities. Many speak from a place of experiencing that. But others relay a story that has been shared countless times among friends and family.
Growing up with married parents who are now separated, I can see that being the case. At least for me, it was my reality. There was a persistent “rule” that problems are to be kept in the family. We are a very insular people. That meant that visits to a counselor were usually out of the question; at least it was for my dad. And sometimes they involve children in adult issues to vent; a conversation in which they have no place.
The church is a mainstay in our homes, which meant that prayer was the “best” remedy for an ethereal ailment. It seemed like pastors had more “clients” than an actual licensed therapist. To this day, I’m sure that there are still some people that feel like mental illness is the work of the devil.
A distrust of– or at the very least an unconvinced attitude toward– the kind of people (white people) that most often populate the field of psychology. That cultural tone-deafness, perceived or not, can potentially leave black patients feeling unheard or misunderstood. Before you even get to the therapist’s office, that feeling of possibly not being able to relate can hold us back from wanting to see anyone.
We value self-sufficiency and resilience because they are the markings of a strong individual. It’s a multi-layered kind of self-sufficiency and resilience, however. Of course, anyone would want their child to be self-sufficient and resilient. But it’s also a security measure, per se, that we are equipped with to handle the unique hardships that one might face as a black individual in America.
There are other things, too, like the stigma associated with having a mental illness, being seen as overexaggerating our conditions, or the lack of resources in our communities. The list goes on.
I wanted to focus, however, on the positive steps forward that I have personally seen in the black community. I think that it is equally important to highlight our successes as a means of providing some pride and hope. Hope gives us drive and something to look forward to.
With that being said, though, here are a few things (among many) that we’re getting right.
We’re learning that mental illness is a real and treatable condition.
We’re learning that mental illness has many faces. It can look like binge drinking, constant aggressiveness or anger, isolation, inappropriate behaviors, and so much more.
We’re learning that it’s fine to have one. We recognize that having a mental illness does not require us to ascribe a meaning to it. It doesn’t make you any less of a person to have one. Mental illness just simply is.
Because of community outreach programs and the growing availability of online resources, now we know that prayer doesn’t have to be the only answer. There are a variety of medications, types of talk therapy, and a whole host of other techniques that can be used to fix the problem.
Hurt people hurt people. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all filtered through our experiences. We’re recognizing (and becoming sympathetic to the fact) that some of our more well-known, and sometimes self-destructive, behaviors are due to years of trauma and stressors being messily swept under a cheap, thin rug.
We are understanding that we need to parse unpacked feelings and lay them to rest. If not, they can manifest as some really horrible behaviors that are– at its core– a method for protecting oneself from additional stressors.
We now know that being compassionate in this area can help to start a cycle of healing for ourselves and others.
We’re learning to say no to the toxic people in our lives.
No fuckboys allowed. No intolerant douchebags allowed. No entitled assholes allowed. This is equal opportunity. That means that no matter what you identify as if you are any of the following and are not willing to change, you can’t sit with us.
We’re raising the value of our mental health, our time, and our love. If you can’t afford to treat it with the same standard of respect that we do, then you can’t get it. We can not afford to be bothered with people who don’t care enough about themselves to lower our standards for them to feel comfortable. And make no mistake, this extends to friends, family, and strangers, too.
As CeeLo Green once said, “even your company must complement the feng shui”; i.e. You. Can Not. Be. In Our Lives. If You. Gon’. Mess. Shit. Up.
We’re educating ourselves and those around us.
‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ – George Santayana.
Black Lives Matter was an incredibly important movement to have. (In case you were not aware, there is an implicit ‘, too’ at the end.) Regardless of how you feel about the group, their dedication to uplifting black men and women of all ages while building up our communities from the local level has been nothing short of admirable and necessary.
As they’ve put it on their website, “[Black Lives Matter] is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”
Using loud, clear, and authoritative voices, we’re telling others that safety and freedom is a natural prerequisite that must be afforded to us. We’re telling others that our blackness is not simply for entertainment. We’re demanding meaningful change in the way that others view and treat us.
A firm, loving, and comforting hand has been placed on our shoulder to let us know that we will be heard, loved, and supported in our international village. To let us know that no matter what, we are beautifully and wonderfully made. To let us know that our history is rich and deep. To let us know that we are deserving of respect, too.
We’re liberating ourselves by being unapologetically black.
‘Say it loud– I’m black and I’m proud.’- James Brown.
In an effort to limit or eliminate our stressors, we’ve taken upon ourselves to live our best lives. Living our best lives means standing in our truths shamelessly, proudly.
That means that it’s OK to have the “bell pepper” nose; all the better to sniff out bullshit and inauthenticity with.
That means that it’s OK to have the deep skin that reflects bold colors and playfully dances with light.
That means it’s OK to embrace fuzzy, nappy, stubborn, frizzy, kinky, coily, curly hair in its natural state.
That means that it’s OK to have large, full lips, wide, curvaceous hips, and round bottoms.
That means that we aren’t monolithic in genes or behavior. We’re a big-ass box of assorted chocolates so to speak. We have a variety of skin tones that span across a multitude of hues and undertones. We all have different ideas and opinions. We all have different body types. We can’t all dance. We can’t all shoot 3-pointers. And it’s OK to appreciate all of it.
That means that the music we chose to listen and dance to, the clothes that we wear, and the way that we style our hair are all creative reflections of who we are as a people. No one can effectively recreate what we do so effortlessly. Our swag is inimitable.
It means that it’s OK to not care about what other communities of people may think of you and live your life, that may or may not be dipped in overt blackness, no matter how uncomfortable it makes other people.
It means that whatever being “unapologetically black” means to you is OK.
With the growing political and racial tensions, I think this change in mentality could not have come at a more opportune time. Mental health is incredibly important to maintain whether you’re fighting the good fight or you’re simply trying to weather the storm that is life.
In order to be able to handle those stressors, you need to take time away to check in with yourself. A time to reassure yourself that it will be OK. A time to unplug and detox from the malignant tumors outside of your home. A time to recharge and recuperate in peace before getting back to excising them.
Whatever the impetus, I’m just glad that it’s working.
What are some things that you’ve noticed that I may have left out? Did you notice something that needs to be corrected? Do you feel differently than I do?
Let me know in the comment section below! I’d love to talk with you. 🙂
Peace and peace,