The topic of mental health as it pertains to Black people is one that is rarely discussed. I needed to conduct some research prior to writing this to further educate myself on the matter. Over the years, I have had family and friends suffering from a mental illness that they weren’t aware of. It wasn’t always discussed openly amongst family. After perusing multiple articles, my eyes were opened to a bevy of information.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Service, African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic Whites. Life-altering events like the death of a loved one, illness; and “psycho-social” issues such as unemployment, crime in our communities, and racism just to name a few, contribute to psychological distress. With everything going on in our world today, just imagine how many of us are suffering mentally. A lot of us are suffering in silence because of how we were raised. In some cases, we don’t feel comfortable disclosing how we’re feeling because we don’t want to hear “just pray about it” or “you just need to man up”.
Everyday we’re losing people due to suicide because they don’t know what else to do. By not investing in our mental health and the mental health of those closest to us, we do ourselves a great disservice. The topic of mental health in regards to Black people is so taboo and the stigma is damaging.
A piece in Ebony magazineA piece in Ebony magazine featured Simone Sneed, Director of Development and External Affairs for Inwood House. Sneed has also suffered from bipolar disorder. She considers herself “episode free, med-free and hospital free for over three years”. In the piece she credited her mother with investing in her mental health. What stood out to me was what she said about why the Black community approaches mental health the way we do:
“Historically, African Americans have normalized our own suffering. During slavery, mental illness often resulted in a more inhumane lifestyle including frequent beatings and abuse, which forced many slaves to hide their issues. Over time, strength became equated with survival and weakness (including mental illness) meant you might not survive.”
I have heard this before and it still makes me shiver when I think about it. What our ancestors endured all of those years ago has evolved into a self-harming way of thinking. As a strong and resilient people, we have to learn how to lean on each other more. Having a mental illness is not a weakness. If you or someone you know feels like they need to seek professional help, don’t take it lightly or be embarrassed. This is not a “White person’s disease”, it affects us all. We are entitled to our feelings, good and bad. No one’s feelings are invalid. We must address this issue head on and end the stigma of mental illness.