Okay if I am gonna write again I want to touch on this cause this has been the main thing going on in my life this year. Hell past three years. That is being Black and dealing with mental health. Mental health does not discriminate between races or sexes. Mental health affects us all one way or another. However, growing up in certain communities will limit your ability to get the mental health assistance you need. I can only share my experience with mental health and my journey.
Mental health is a taboo in the Black community. We do not discuss it. We make jokes about it but never is it to be discussed seriously. Whenever I think about mental health in the Black community I think of Bernie Mac’s skit with the fake teeth. The crowd laughing but the truth of his words was lost. We fear discussing it. The idea of it must get blamed on something else or is a laughing matter. We will pin it on spirits and turn to prayer, or say we are just having a tough time. “You’ll be alright”, “Ain’t nothing wrong with you” or “That’s all in your head.” All used to dismiss the Black mental health experience. My family used these on me when I tried to discuss it and still did even after my first suicidal attempt. It boiled down to nothing is wrong, go pray, and if you wanna kill yourself go do outside. This is what I was told as a Black young man.
For Black men, it’s worst. The idea of something being wrong mentally or emotionally with a Black man is taboo. No one wants to assist a Black man through these emotions. Nor look at warning signs. A man must be a man. The stigma of mental health and the guidelines of masculinity clash and also intertwined. Being sexually overactive or sleeping all day is normal behavior for men or treated as normal behavior. So when a young man shows signs of mental illness it is overlooked. My days in bed were just laziness. My nights of wildness was just youthfulness. All to avoid the stigma of mental health. Mental health would be a sickly thing. To admit to it would be to lose one’s manhood completely. Look on the internet and you see no one wants an emotional man or a man who can be “the man”. Being a Black young man is to live up to everyone’s expectations or stereotype of you. Something unhealthy promoted that we all buy into. My struggle was the same. My actions were hard to separate from stereotypes of being young and Black.
Firstly to understand why it took so long I think I think I should open up with what’s I’m dealing with. I have Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety. Supposedly Bipolar Disorder is hard to diagnosis because most people only discuss and worry about the down phases. The lows, the depression, and lack of energy are the focal points in most discussions. This causes it to get misdiagnosed as depression. In the Black community, we have a problem with calling it laziness. Disregarding it as a spirit or just so on. We rarely ask our kids how are they doing and apply tough love as a norm that is dismissive and uncaring.
To describe my lows it would be a day of just being in bed. No energy sometimes no energy to eat to do anything. There was this pressure at the same time to do something. Each second that passed the pressure would build. I would become disgusted with myself and try to egg me to do something only to become frustrated with what was doing. Building the depression into a wall I could not climb. It would repeat for days and never let up. I would go for long walks to try and alleviate it. Rain, sleet, or snow it didn’t matter to me. Listening to an array of music. It gave me some comfort but the walls remained. The lows were tough and had dark thoughts accompanying them however the highs are just as dangerous.
My highs saw me dismissive, ready to fight, disregarded people, and cutting friends off entirely. I would have energy but no focus. Wanted to do everything and anything. Wanted to drink my weight in alcohol and just go for it. Driving at extreme speeds down highways and blasting music. The highs were when I could make music and poetry. When I could write and connect stories. When I felt like I could do it all. So what took me so long to seek help. It was a combination of highs and fear.
Fear is why the Black community tabooed mental health. Fear and of what? Well, the first reason is common regardless of race. Fear of being judged. The fear of having someone in your family who is mentally ill, or having a mental illness is seen as embarrassing to the Black community. So we cover it up with the ideas of spirits and religion. Next is the fear of imprisonment. I feared that if I admitted something was wrong with me I would lose my freedom. This fear was put into me by my family and media. The idea of a psych ward and being locked up caused me to avoid seeking medical assistance. Even after I had three attempts under my belt I still avoided seeking help. Friends of mine sadly reinforced this fear.
My friends who I believe were acting with the best intentions did little to help when it came to seeking help. They spoke on the noncompliance list and people being taken away. Fear of loss no freedom troubled my mind. I worked hard to graduate college and stay out of trouble. One friend I confided in had gotten worried and called 911. The respondent was a cop. This exchange kept me from seeking mental help for the longest. He bellowed about my business loudly in the hallway that out of shame I let him enter the apartment. Where my roommate’s swords in the living room and holes stabbed in his couch. None of which was me the couch was going in the garbage anyway and he wanted to test his collection. I doubt that would have mattered in the eyes of the EMTs. See I had to wait for EMTs to arrive and clear me. If they said I was good that was the end of it. If not they take me away to a hospital and I do not know how that works in the state I was living in. They came and cleared me. I remember wanting to end it again that same night. I was pissed and angry at my friend who believed a loss of my freedom was a better alternative without even looking into it. To lose my freedom because of something I had no control of didn’t sit well will me. So I stay depressed for 2 more years.
I fought depression, cut ties with friends, and self-isolated while fighting suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t until I was contemplating driving my car off the road on my way to the concert that I decided to seek help. At first, I spoke in the general idea then After I found my second therapist and my second psychiatrist I spoke truthfully about my condition. Luckily I started my treatment before COVID-19 had us all locked down. I have prescribed medication and after a few prescription changes, I found the right ones that work for me. The darkness was over I found peace but yet lost a lot to get here. If I had sought out help and wasn’t discouraged I might have found this peace sooner. Some friendships saved. Yet I question their legitimacy as three true friends stayed with me and I still have time to enjoy life without the forced highs and lows.
Black people have a right to mental health without judgment, fear, or discrimination. However, this change starts with us. We need to stop ignoring the signs and making each other feel unsafe in regards to seeking mental health. We shouldn’t cause anxiety within each other for seeking assistance. It also shouldn’t be joked upon within our group based on sex. We make up a good portion of individuals who have suicidal thoughts and made suicide attempts. We have generational traumas and personal traumatic events to rise above. The last thing we need is judgment. Also, we need to stop waiting for God or praying that he will fix it. He already gave you the tools. I’m lucky enough to have broken free from that stigma I know there are those still fighting. If you come across this. Know you matter and there are ways out.