Mental Illness in the Black Community

Taboo to You

It seems we hear about mental illness all the time-whether it be commercials, via a friend, on social media, or in the news. As someone who has suffered from my own battle with mental illness for quite some time I am SO glad to see this. This is progress. The reason most people don’t get help is because it’s still so fucking taboo. I know I STILL look both ways and duck into my little back-ally abortion clinic-y therapist’s office every Monday at 6:30 PM like I am breaking the fucking law. Why?? Why don’t they have a huge sign advertising, “Mental Health! Mental HEALTH! Everyone come and get your MENTAL HEALTH!!” Okay, maybe not that intense, but you get the picture.

It is treated as something we should be ashamed of to this very day. In this day and age where you can get famous from a sex tape. In this day and age where it’s trendy to have an affair on your reality TV show. In this day and age where we are so advanced technologically that we are sending drones to Mars, driving electric cars, and utilizing AI..we’re still ashamed of taking care of our mental health. There must be something “wrong” with that girl. She wears all black and she goes to…*hushed whisper*..THERAPY!!

Mental Illness and Me

If it weren’t for therapy I. Would. Be. Dead. End of story. I have a great appreciation for the tools that allowed me to get help. I have a great appreciation for not giving a fuck as well. I knew, living in a town of 2,000 people, that everyone and their mother and their cat would know about me going to a rehab facility/psych ward. I also didn’t give a FUCK. I knew what I needed to do to get myself freed from the solid grip Oxycodone had had on me for 3-4 years. I knew what I needed to do to get back to being the motivated, fun, outgoing, ambitious person I used to be. I knew what I had to do to like the person I saw in the mirror once more. All of this involved ME. Not “them”. Not having parents to answer to probably aided in my attitude towards this. I can imagine, if my father were still alive, explaining to him how I managed to develop a $400/week habit and was checking into a psych ward-LOL. Now, if I were part of a predominantly black community, and had black parents, grandparents and siblings to answer to….would I have still gotten help?

Black on Black

The answer is a resounding NO. Mental illness is an unaccepted concept in the black community. Some things I have heard are, “Snap out of it,” “When I was your age we….” “Quit whining,” “You’re BLACK. We ain’t got time for this *hit.” My favorite is the reference to back in whoever’s day. Things are a lot different than they were in the 60’s Gramma Gertrude. A. Lot. Different.

I invite you to look into these subjects on your own time. It goes into some pretty disturbing territory and is a surprise to a lot of people who have never dealt with the systemic racism in this country. Here are some statistics detailing the frightening state of the black community in comparison to the white community:

No. of blacks imprisoned (2016): 489,900 (Gremlich, 2019) 60% No. of whites imprisoned (2016): 439,800
Homeless blacks (2017): 52.1 per 1,000; 33% of prison population (NAEH, 2017) Homeless whites: 10.4 per 1,000; 10% of prison population.
Life expectancy-black women: 78.1 years Life expectancy-white women: 81. 2 years
College degree: 335, 994 (Tate, 2019) College degree: 1,631,850


Blacks on anti-depressants: 14.6% lower than …….————>>>>>> Whites on anti-depressants
Suicide- White men are actually 2.5 times more likely to die by this cause

See a little difference?

So, why the hell am I talking about degrees and prisons? Well, because it is a fairly well-known fact that those in our society who are educated are much less likely to suffer from chemical imbalances, and more likely to seek help and deal with said imbalances healthily and efficiently.

Surprisingly, the gap between blacks and whites in prison is narrowing. The line is actually HALF as wide as it was in 2009; an actual 17% decrease (Gremlich, 2019).That still doesn’t fix the injustices found in the “justice” system and the disproportionate amount of African Americans that get profiled by cops, sentenced to harsher sentences for similar or the same crimes, etc. We still account for a whopping SIXTY percent of the prison population. On the other hand, the rates of homelessness in communities of color is NOT improving over time, with Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities having the highest rates, at almost 94 per 10,000 people (compared to 52 per ten-thousand blacks and TEN per ten-thousand whites).

The life expectancy has remained unchanged for black women at 78.1 years, while it has decreased for white women-81.2 years-due in part to the opiate crisis. When it comes to college degrees, white and Asian students rank 20% higher among the rate of college graduates.

Despite some undeniable progress that has been made in recent years, racism continues to have a viable impact on the overall mental health of Black Americans. Negative stereotypes and attitudes, along with instances of rejection have decreased, but still occur. Consequences of such have been negative, as well. Historical and contemporary instances of negative treatment have led to mistrust of authorities, who typically do not have our best interest in mind. Black Americans are TWENTY percent more likely to report severe psychological distress than White Americans (MHA, 2019).

The number one recorded cause of death for African-American males between the ages of 15 and 34 is homicide. But are these deaths often characterized by law enforcement, coroners and family as accidental or homicidal when, in fact, the individual wanted or expected to die? African-American masculinity is arguably more confined than white masculinity. African-American boys and men are even more likely to be labeled “weak” and “not a real man” when in need of help. In the “code of the street”, described by sociologist Elijah Anderson, African-American boys and men must learn to hide weakness and appear strong and resilient (MHA, 2019).

Fix this Shit!!

Most people look at statistics and want to know what can be done to help the situation at hand-whether it involves them or not. If you’re tired of being part of the problem, there are some things you can do.

  1. Contribute your time: MHA, NAMI, ‘The Bipolar Writer’ on WP, ‘The Marie Post’ on WP, see what you can do in your community!
  2. Contribute your dollar to: MHA, NAMI, NAACP, ‘The Bipolar Writer’ on WP, ‘The Safe Place’-an App for Black America’s Mental Health, local organizations.
  3. LISTEN. If someone is going through a tough time….be there. Just offer a shoulder to cry on. That means more than you often know.

To elaborate on No. 3, when I was about to check myself into a psych ward I texted a few of my best friends. Not for sympathy. Not for someone to come visit me. Just for a shoulder. An ear. That was really the best thing they could do for me at that time. Listen and not judge. This is, surprisingly, harder than it sounds. My [former] best friend in the entire world (2nd best, actually, to my ‘Eggo’ Magan) hadn’t been speaking to me much. I didn’t take it personal-we’re adults; we’re busy! Well, it got to where it was extremely bothersome. The day before I checked in I texted her and spilled the beans. I told her everything. Then I asked for her support in the most sincere of ways-I truly did just want to know she was on my side.

Well…her response has played through my mind every day for the past 127 days of sobriety. “….I’ve known you were on drugs for a long time, Monica. Honestly, your energy is just fucking me up-I can’t even be around you. When you get better call me.”

Ouch. That stung. Not only did it sting, but it let me know where I stood. Regardless of me being there for every self-inflicted wound she’d ever had, answered my phone at any hour day or night, gone on adventure after adventure with her-hiking, parties, Dallas, Little Rock, Fayetteville- and, most importantly…listened. I was always there to listen. I would never dream of making her feel bad about something, especially when she was taking the necessary steps to fix it.

I learned who my true friends were in October of 2018.

Celebs on Celexa

They’re rich. They’re famous. They’re breathtakingly beautiful. They eat a cracker a day and don’t shit. They’re…celebrities. * gasp * Something so amazingly talented and gorgeous couldn’t possibly be unhappy, right? Wrong.

For reasons unknown, average people consider celebrities to be ‘holier than thou’- they’re “above us,” virtually invincible. Indestructible. They’re so perfect! They can’t possibly be susceptible to all the negativity in the world! At the end of the day, they are still humans. They feel. They see. They experience….and they have chemical imbalances.

Pause.

I JUST explained to someone on Facebook why the following statement is so problematic:

“Who needs ‘medicine’ and corporate (witch) doctors when you have organic food, exercise and well water??

Put a Fork in Me..

I’m done.

What is your opinion on the topics discussed? How do you think these “anti-medication” views can be harmful? I would love to hear questions and comments from readers. If you have any subjects you would like us to approach for the next blog post, please let me know.

Thank you for reading my first post as contributing author. I got out of rehab in October and immediately began to write. It’s something I used to love, until my father passed away in 2003. I stopped everything that was important to me at that point. Funny how life comes full circle-writing has, without a doubt, saved my life. Whether two people or two thousand people read my work, I vow to never put the pen down again.

I appreciate all of you!

-Monique Marie

Sources:

FactTank. Pew Research Center. Gramlich, John, January 21, 2018. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact- tank/2018/01/12/shrinking-gap-between- number-of-blacks-and-whites-in-prison/

Just the Albrights, 2019. https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/112962005/posts/199

Mental Health America. MHA. Pikes Peak SEO, 2019. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/programs

Mental Health First Aid.(MHFA) -‘The Safe Place‘ 2019. https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/external/2018/03/mental-health-app-black- community/

NAMI. 2019. https://www.nami.org/find-support/diverse-communities/african-americans

Racial Inequalities in Homelessness. National Allicance to End Homelessness, 2019. https://endhomelessness.org/resource/racial-inequalities-homelessness-numbers/

Tate, Emily. 2019. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/04/26/collegecompletion-rates-vary- race-and-ethnicity-report-finds

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33 Replies to “Mental Illness in the Black Community”

    1. Thank you! Take care of you, regardless of what it takes. Those people don’t have your best interest in mind, it sounds like, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who do! I lost several friends amidst this whole ordeal, and at the end of the day I am a-okay with it. 💜

      1. Feel free to email me or message me on Facebook ANYTIME. You can always talk to me and I will just listen. Everyone needs someone. Stay strong, please. It will get better.

  1. Good topic!
    “If it weren’t for therapy I. Would. Be, Dead. End of story.” – I can relate. I too as well use to go to therapy. I was embarrassed at first and it was hard to open but I got use to it.

    1. Thank you! It’s so hard. I had issue admitting I wasn’t “strong” ALL the time. I finally learned it takes strength to admit you need help.

      1. Exactly!
        The hardest problem that we have is admitting we have a problem.
        Once we realize that then we can form the hypothesis and hope the hypothesis and the conclusion is directly proportional

  2. We have not just to see the part of systemic racism you are mentioning, but also the part of individuals who earn their ways in life with discipline and hard work. (And I mean it without defining a particular race).

      1. Sure! What I mean is that we also have to acknowledge the merits of each individual in spite of its race.

      2. Of course! I research and speak on mental illness in all forms and it’s definitely not a race-specific thing, of course. I chose to speak on the effect it has on the black community for this post, as it tends to plague POC at a greater level, and they often do not have ease of access to the help non-POC have access to. The stigma is massive, and any way I can try to chip away at it, I do. Thank you for your response!

      3. Also, with all due respect, I think you should be careful in discounting the factor of race in this subject. Pointing out it that mental issues don’t just effect the race I am speaking of, or advising me that I should consider people on an “individual basis in spite of race” is similar to responding with, “All Lives Matter!” to the Black Lives Matter movement. Do you see what I am saying? Yes, everyone’s mental health is important. We all have issues. Race and racism is something I deal with almost on a daily basis. I am treated differently in a lot of settings because of my skin color, and I see how far we have yet to go with equality in the country I call home. Therefore, speaking about and on behalf of the black community is important. It’s crucial. While some may say that we need to quit pointing out race and quit talking about it all the time, and racism will somehow magically go away, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I, and many other POC, do not have the luxury of NOT speaking about race…There are so many issues facing our community specifically, it’s doing us a massive disservice to stay silent. I notice many non-POC (I don’t know what you identify as and am not assuming) get very uncomfortable with tough subjects, and that is a large part of the problem itself. Until we all get comfortable acknowledging inequality and how it affects each of us, we won’t make any additional progress. Thank you again for your comment!

  3. Love your writing style; its directness, honesty, simplicity. I could read all day. I’m so glad you’re in a good place. I feel like you could do anything. It’s bleak when you finally ask for help and your best mate drops you like a lift without cables. I think I could easily be your mate. The thing about being white, that’s me, is I’ll never face that pure prejudice. I might have a host of problems because I’m female but it’s not magnified because of my skin. Look forward to reading more. 🌸

    1. Thank you for the kind and encouraging words. I should be careful in my wording-my problems aren’t greater than anyone else’s, but I do take my experiences and the overall condition of the black community to heart, and want to discuss them. I am privileged and grateful, but I also know we can do better. 💜

      1. Your wording was perfect. You didn’t imply your struggle as greater. You write humbly. And you are right we can all do better 💕

      2. Thank you for your kind words, once again. It’s something I always wonder when I write about subjects like this…am I alienating anyone? Am I being fair? So, I appreciate your feedback.

  4. Very true, in black culture mental Illness isn’t understood at all. The mindset is very ignorant. not all are like that, but for alot of the older generation saying things like “well you don’t want to talk to a doctor because people are gonna consider you mentally Ill”, “that’s white people stuff”, or “back in the day we didn’t talk about all this anxiety/depression stuff we just kept it moving” . Nothing is wrong with taking medication either, I don’t understand the judgement against it.especially if you don’t have a mental illbess you shouldn’t tell other people how they should/shouldn’t deal with it. We should all be more supportive of people getting help whether it’s therapy or medication. Nice post.💙

    1. Exactly. “That’s white people stuff” just blows my mind. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate! I think we need to keep speaking on it, spreading awareness, and helping where we can. It’s better than it was 10 years ago, so progress has definitely be made and resources are greater now. Thanks for your response and for reading my post. 🙂

  5. I respect you and these statistics so much. I wish I knew the answer to equalize this world. I wish I knew what needs done for hate crimes to stop and acceptance of truth (that each will be different from person to person). For now, I stand in solidarity with those in the black community who bravely accept their me all health condition and actively seek help. It’s OK to do that… And I can’t imagine the struggle to believe.

    1. Thank you for your solidarity. Spreading awareness, voting, donating your time to organizations that are trying to narrow this gap, an shutting down ignorant hate speech are all things that don’t go unnoticed and ultimately help. One person can only do so much, and I definitely appreciate you!!

  6. I’m a great believer in talk therapy and feel zero stigma about medication. But if I were to listen to my family, I would have tried to pray it away and been in the same boat as my mother and grandmother.

    There’s a lot of undiagnosed depression in my family tree. My main motivation is to break that chain and not live a life in varying degrees of despair. The shame of mental illness in the black community is deep because we’ve had to be so strong to survive over the centuries. Being unable to muscle thru it, as harmful as that method is, is akin to admitting failure.

    I look at seeking professional help as not only courageous, but the ultimate expression of self-knowledge and self-love. At your lowest, you were STILL able to reach down into yourself and see your intrinsic value. You still could see yourself as a child of God. That’s an affirmation, not a condemnation.

    I encourage everyone to seek help, but I openly share my journey to show my black friends and associates that there are options. That yes, therapy is for black people and it doesn’t make us weak. Because weakness is defeated with action. And that it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, it’s how you get up and keep on keeping on that matters.

    1. Wow. Thank you for your reply-a lot of truth. I get what you are saying about breaking the cycle. I never want to end up like my mother or father. Mother: heroin addict dead in her 40s-I was 8. Father: alcoholic, very sick, COPD, dead at 56-I was 15. Both severely mentally ill, as addiction and mental illness ultimately go hand in hand. I watched a very miserable life unfold as an only child with a severely depressed father. I did not come close to understanding it then…but I do now. Those experiences made me who I am and I am grateful for not having a silver spoon shoved up my mouth, but if I don’t do my part now that I am awake to help others and spread the word about mental illness, I am missing some major opportunity and potential. Again, thank you so much for your words.

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