Mental Health Part 2
When considering how mental health is handled and experienced in the black community it’s important to note that many different kinds of people can begin to experience stress and depression at any time for numerous reasons. Family, work, and relational stressors can take their toll and eventually, if not taken care of, cause a breakdown. For most black people the knowledge of racial, societal and historical burdens also contribute to mental health issues. Macro and Micro aggressions play a part in how we experience the world and learn to cope.
On a greater scale the effects of transatlantic slavery on Africa and the greater African diaspora through the generations, all over the world has been devastating to say the least. Unsurprisingly, there is now more research on how racism and trauma throughout history is remembered in the body and passed down through DNA to the next generation. We don’t need to use our imagination to guess how the trauma of seeing family members murdered in horrific ways, brutally whipped, raped and enslaved could be passed down and remembered consciously or unconsciously in present generations. Lessons about how to stay alive, deal with day to day trauma and cope with the never ending rejection from parts of society are ingrained within us.
Dr. Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome has expressed in her research that the way black Americans act, behave and make decisions has come from that generational trauma. With the end of slavery there was no counselling, reconcillation or even real reparations. Just a continuing knowledge of where we came from and where we were trying to go.
Society’s response to us as shown through media can affect our mental health. The trauma of witnessing unwarranted death and violence of black people feels familiar to being hunted and denied freedom. The knowledge that as a person of colour you could be dealing with systematic racism or the gas lighting on social media when injustice is pointed out also has real consequences to the mind. For some, thinking about the long term effects on your children from living in such a society can play a negative role in our mental health.
How we respond to needing help is some of what we’ve carried within our cultures as a direct result of how we’ve been forced to cope in the past as a people. Like Debbie Opoku pointed out in her blog last week- we deny it, don’t talk about it and often try to avoid the optics of needing help. But all of these are reasons why we should be so willing to seek help when needed.
Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles are two great examples of black women athletes who chose to be vulnerable and open about their struggles in the area of mental health. While there was a majority of support, there were those who saw the mention of mental health issues as an excuse to avoid failure in competing. In Naomi’s case many months ago she was quickly vilified for missing out on time with the media until she spoke up about her mental health issues. The idea that mental health issues are not real or serious enough to be noted seems to be far spread. People seem to be more comfortable with seeing celebrities and black athletes as superhuman without needing assistance. These ladies defied the “strong black woman” stereotype when they asked for help and all of the responses by the general public were very telling. There were those that didn’t want to see it for what it was. They wanted to make the women out to be slackers or in the wrong somehow, some said they should suck it up and do what they are expected to do. I’m glad that this issue exposed some of our ingrained attitudes about mental health so that we can be in a better place to deal with it and in the future maybe take care of our own mental health a bit better.
How has stigma played a role in your attitudes about mental health? Do stereotypes prevent us from seeking help?