Updated: Feb 16, 2020
There was a time when you couldn't say mental health, and Black community, in the same sentence. I've said this before, but until I was in college, I legitimately thought anxiety was a made-up condition that white people got. I diagnosed myself. I was in the middle of an anxiety attack that had already lasted two days and I finally decided to Google it. I took a few psychology classes in college, I LOVE psychology. So, I finally had a word for what I had been experiencing almost all of my life. I then went about 9 more years before I started to see a therapist and got an official diagnosis.
But why? Why did I wait that long?
Part of it is that there is a stigma on discussing mental health, in the Black community. I needed to go to therapy for many reasons, anxiety is just one. But deciding to go to therapy would mean that I was admitting something is wrong, admitting that I cannot "handle my shit" on my own, and that I needed help-and we just don't do that.
Another reason that mental health issues go untreated, is because Black people are taught to pray their pain away. There is no doubt that Christianity plays a part in my life, and many other Black lives, now and growing up. But the idea that everything can be prayed-away, has hurt us more than helped us. I cannot pray my anxiety away, bi-polar disorder cannot be prayed-away.
Suggesting that someone is struggling with mental health issues because they don't pray enough, is damaging and only adds to the trauma they may be experiencing. Of course this is not to say that religion and God cannot be your solace, but a part of growing and getting better is realizing that sometimes you need to speak to someone professionally.
I also want to add that taking medicine to help you, doesn't make you a weak person. Since going to therapy, I am learning better ways to manage my anxiety, but sometimes breathing doesn't work, sometimes, I need medicine and I'm not afraid to say that.
Therapy made me less angry.
The Fallacy that Black People Always Have to be Tough.
Black people, historically, have had to be tough, and we are.
We had to be tough to make it trough 400 years of slavery, we had to be tough to make it through Jim Crow segregation laws, the 1960s Civil Rights movement, and now...
Emotions in Black Men
Black men are expected to never show (for serious lack of a better word), weakness. Black men can't cry, be sad, or ever have a bad day.
Being taught this, as a young child, leads them to hold in all of those emotions, for life. So that when they are adults, they may have all of this pain inside of them that they have never expressed. It's unhealthy, unrealistic, and not human. Humans have emotions, they cry and feel pain- Black men are no different. When I suggest therapy to Black men, I always get a nervous laugh or a "I'm not white" response. The fact is, holding onto pain, and sadness will inevitably take a toll on your mental health.
Emotions in Black Women
Black women are expected to never show emotions, period. Can't be too angry, or you're an angry Black woman, can't be too sad, or you're a weak Black woman. That expectation not only comes from society, but from other Black people. We carry those expectations into our careers. Not speaking up because we don't want to be labeled as the angry Black woman. But we are allowed to be angry, because anger is also a human emotion. Anger is not something that is exclusive to Black women. The entire idea of an angry Black woman, is an oxymoron.-Read that again.
Changing the Narrative
When a little Black kid "shows out" or "acts up" the first reaction is that they are just bad, overreacting, or maybe the parents simply do not have an answer. The latter is the case with my mom. When I would experience anxiety, I told her I felt like I had asthma, because I would hyperventilate and couldn't breathe. When I got checked for asthma and didn't have it, her quest for answers stopped there. That doesn't make her a bad parent, she just didn't know.
I know, and I plan to teach it to my children, and to my family members. I think I might be the first in my family to openly discuss going to therapy. At first I was ashamed of it, because of all the reasons I've already mentioned, but I have grown SO MUCH in the last year, that I have to give credit where credit is due! Therapy made my relationship better, because it made me a better communicator. It made my friendships better because it taught me how to (start to) manage my social anxiety-definitely still working on it.
I talk about it because we need to normalize it, and that's really what it comes down to. I'm not sneaking off to therapy as if I'm going to a speakeasy. I'm going to the doctor, and that's ok.
"So you're saying I need to tell everyone I'm going to therapy? " 😒
Definitely not saying that. I choose to be open about it, but no one (not even Bae) knows about EVERYTHING I talk about in therapy. He gets the benefit of a happier me, but some of my problems are mine to work through.
Therapy made me less angry. I was an angry person for years, I didn't know it until someone told me. I had a manager at one of my first jobs call me into her office and basically say, yeah, I get it....life has probably been rough for you, but you can't take it out on other people, you come off as a very angry and standoffish person.
When I tell y'all that I cried, because that is the first time anyone ever acknowledged my pain and this wall that I had put up to protect myself. If anyone in my life, or community had acknowledged that, I might have been able to work through it, a lot earlier in life, maybe not 🤷🏾♀️ but it is a possibility.
Making that initial decision to seek help, can be hard. But for me, life BEFORE that decision, was even harder. Constantly being defensive is draining, going through an anxiety attack with no coping mechanisms, is draining. Trauma, is draining, being Black in America, can be draining.
"OK Nae, you're telling me all this stuff, but how do I get started?"
Once you've decided to go to therapy, start looking into how you'll find one, and get help paying for it. I have medical insurance through my job, which covers my weekly therapy, and I just pay a $20 copay for each session. Please utilize your insurance! Max👏🏾that👏🏾shit👏🏾out, whether you're paying for it or you're getting it for free via the state you live in.
I found my therapist directly through my insurance and if you have insurance, use that first, but there are other resources out there. I will list a few, below:
This app is launching soon https://www.ayanatherapy.com/
Yes, those are resources for POC therapists, but yours doesn't have to be-mine isn't. I do plan to get a black therapist in the future, because I feel there are some cultural issues that I need to discuss that my 60 yo white therapist just won't get.
"That sounds like a lot, IDK if I'm ready for therapy, what else can I do?"
Meditate! I get really excited when I talk about meditation because it is such an easy way to clear your mind and help silence negative thoughts. If you haven't meditated before, that's ok. There are apps that will teach you. I have only used Headspace, and I highly recommend it, https://www.headspace.com/.
It's 2020. It's time to remove the stigma on discussing mental health, in the Back community. We should be encouraging and supporting each other in our journeys to better mental health.