Women of Colour Suffer from Mental Illness, Too
Photo © Jessica Felicio
With the news of celebrities, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain committing suicide, it's prevalent the concerns of mental illness isn't taken seriously. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. The stigma that women of colour "must remain strong" and are taught to take care of their own battles and struggles by themselves is created by a society that does not offer help for women of a darker complexion.
Black women are taught to remain quiet and to be strong, but who is checking in on us. Mental illnesses such as depression, postpartum depression, bipolar disease, and suicide are common among women of colour, but there are ways to fight the disease and move forward with life. Here are some examples and signs to help combat mental illness in your community and homes.
It is known in the black community that we will shy away from the conversation of someone pointing out any issue of mental illness in our family. We would say, "Girl she's just a little off." Not realising that the "off" actually means there is a concern that we need to address. Actress Jennifer Lewis, who was often called bipolar and was always aware of her illness.
She explains in an interview with Black Doctors, how overwhelmed she felt with grief that she was unable to control her feelings.
Mental illness comes in various forms such as bipolar, eating disorders, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorders to name a few. Seeking help and being diagnosed with the illness is what happens first. Once a person is diagnosed, there are medications to control the disease. Failing to take the medications can lead to things getting worse, for example, actress Maia Campbell for "falling off." People did not realise that she suffers from the disease and without her medication, she becomes very irate and unstable. These signs and actions do get worse over time with substance abuse and other harmful behaviours that will affect not only the person but the people around you.
Ever watched the TV show Blackish? In a recent episode, Blackish shed some light on postpartum depression amongst black women. The main character Bo expressed her confusion and frustration after the birth of her child. Bo's husband Dre realised that his wife might be suffering from depression. Postpartum depression is experienced by a mother following childbirth, typically from the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood and fatigue.
I witnessed postpartum depression with my Mother when my little brother was born. I asked my Dad why was Mom always sad and moody? My Dad would reply, "She'll be okay." I knew something was strange when her best friend came and tended to my family for a whole week cooking and cleaning. The signs of postpartum are sadness, moodiness or not wanting to be around the newborn. Once those signs are recognised, it's best to have family and friends around to help Mom cope with unfamiliar feelings.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Black women may not realise that they are suffering through depression. It's embedded in us to feel ashamed or expressed as weak if we have any form of mental illness. We often carry this stigma that we must be strong and fight through pain which usually takes a toll. Women of colour suffer from this illness, like Serena Williams and Michelle Williams who realised that fame didn't mean a thing when happiness was not there. Both women sought help to peel back the layers of issues that needed to be addressed. One of the first steps to overcome depression is initially understanding that you may be depressed, but once you address it the journey to a better life is near.
Singer Kehlani tried to commit suicide after social media bullying from the breakup of NBA star Kyrie Irving. Even though the singer wasn't public on what happened with the relationship, the power of intimidation persuaded her thoughts to take her own life. Friends and family were able to help her cope and assist her in getting help after her suicide attempt.
Before someone contemplates suicide, they express their fascination with talking about death and the language they use often express how things would be better once they leave this earth. Suicidal signs should be taken very seriously and should not be disregarded. The stigma that the person is stronger than they think or they'll overcome through prayer may not always be the case. There are numerous ways to help someone in a time of need even if it's as simple as listening to their pain and struggles.
FIGHTING & SUPPORT
1 in 5 people is affected by mental illness. This means that, even if we don't talk about it, most likely we know someone who does or have the illness ourselves.
There are more resources today than ever before, for those who struggle with anxiety, depression, and stress. If you have a friend or family member struggling with mental illness, or you want to talk to someone outside of those you know, there are options for you to do just that.
Outlets such as Talkspace which is an option to talk to a psychiatrist online or by phone at an affordable rate is available daily.
Another, not so traditional resource is a podcast and website, specifically for women of colour called Therapy for Black Girls. This site allows you to find a therapist in your local area while the podcast, with Dr Joy, discusses the many challenges that black women face and how to overcome them.
Remember, no matter what society tells you, tell someone when you aren't feeling like yourself, you never know how they may help or how you may be helping them.
If you or someone you know has contemplated suicide, call the prevention number, available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.