Mental Health Issues: Stigma vs. Strength

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be a way to indulge in aspects of my life that I feel get left behind, after the 9-5, cooking, and cleaning are through. Never did I think my two worlds would collide, but I had an interesting discussion today that I felt needed to be shared here.

I'll be frank: from my experiences with members of the Black/Caribbean/African communities (friends, family, media, strangers on the street), we have an extreme resistance towards accepting the reality of mental health issues. The stigma is almost palpable, because "it's not a Black issue." I'm sure you've heard what I've heard at some point:

"Therapy and counselling is for White folks."

"You're on antidepressants? Oh, so you're weak, huh?"

"Nah, she's not CRAZY, she's just a crackhead!"

"Girl, you just need to go to church and pray. Those voices in your head are just the Devil."

Mental health disorders are real, and they do not discriminate. Black folks live with schizophrenia. Jamaican women encounter postpartum depression. Nigerian men deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental health disorders don't always look like what you see in the movies. Your co-workers, classmates, friends and family may all be perfectly (or imperfectly) masking an issue. The sooner we can all realize this, the better off we'll all be.

All too often, people of colour tend to minimize the severity (or the entire existence) of mental health issues. Behaviours are excused away, or are said to "be nothing". A side-eye is given to anyone who brings up the topic of seeking help. Those same people are usually redirected from a therapist's couch to a church pew. This cycle continues, and you end up with three types of people: ones who still don't realize (or can't admit) that they have a problem; those that know they have a problem, but don't receive the proper help; and those who do seek treatment, but cannot be open about it with friends and family for fear of being judged. Any way you look at it, we are doing ourselves the ultimate disservice.

I searched all over these innanets for statistics on the prevalence of mental health disorders in the Black-Canadian demographic, and couldn't find any clear numbers. I did find stats through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) stating that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health illness in their lifetime (info here). In this recent Sway article, Kwesi Kafele (director of corporate diversity at CAMH) states that it is very likely that the depression rate is higher for African-Canadian women than for White women - however, we have no concrete numbers to validate this. Look at it this way: the quieter we stay on this issue, the less research, assistance and representation we'll have for our experiences with mental health disorders.

Our entire beings are built on being strong and proud people. Whether you take it back to the days of slavery or the immigration boom that brought many of our parents and grandparents to this country, our foundation as Black/Caribbean/African people is through strength and pride. Even in today's world, we maintain those characteristics, and we are passing them down to our children. Nothing wrong with doing so, but please understand that seeking help for mental health issues is the epitome of that.

Come on people - let's take care of our minds as well as our bodies! Don't suffer in silence when you can live your life to the fullest. Taking that first step is scary, but will likely be the most liberating thing you've ever experienced. We as a community need to support our friends and family; learn and grow with them. and be there every step of the way. Let's put our strength and pride towards uplifting each other, not shaming each other.

How do you feel about the acceptance (or lack thereof) of mental health issues? Have you had any experiences that you'd like to share? Meet me in the comments section below! Do you need some online resources for assistance? See CAMH, the African-Caribbean Mental Health Network, TAIBU Community Health Centre, or email me at bee @ 83toinfinity . com

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