Mental Health In The Black CommunityOctober 16, 2017, Comments Off on Mental Health In The Black Community
I am a twenty-seven-year-old black man, born and raised in the south-eastern region of London. My parents were both originally from the beautiful city of Lagos, Nigeria. They relocated to the windy coast of England in the 70s. Growing up in an African home certainly had some great perks, from the unlimited amounts of J-rice, to the endless supply of Supermalt from parties you were not invited to, not to mention having enough plastic bags in that drawer in the kitchen to stock an entire Asda Supermarket. As well as those great times of jubilee in celebration of such a rich and vast culture, my upbringing also produced an incredible amount of life lessons that I hold onto dearly. One of the key lessons I learned from my parents, which was instilled in me from a young age, was to always show your strength and resilience even through the darkest moments of your life. My mother and late father faced an enormous amount of hardship when they landed on these shores. As well as being at a disadvantage because of the colour of their skin, they had to navigate through a country that didn’t understand their culture. However, my parents refused to use that as an excuse and against the odds worked extremely hard to provide for a tribe of 8 children.
My upbringing was centred around a particular theme, that you had to work hard, be a man and provide for your family regardless of how you may feel. This may to some sound like an extremely harsh way to live, but this was the very foundation that most of our forefathers built their lives upon, and made them the men they were, this can be interpreted as a good thing or bad thing depending on your experience.
Black history is an inexhaustible chapter that spans far beyond what is taught in education today and African culture is no different. The ability to withstand hardship proved to be a great feat in the midst of the struggle, however, it also meant that bottling up you’re issues and problems had a direct impact on your mental health. I cannot stress enough that my parents as well the majority of other parents within the black community did not neglect the rather pressing issue of mental health because of sheer wickedness, that is why those looking from the outside in often see the methods of an African home as barbaric, this could not be further from the truth. The obstacles that black men and women had to face was the real tragedy, nevertheless, they persevered in spite of the hurdles and provided a life for their children, unfortunately it is our current generation that faces the deep consequences of neglecting mental health.
Mental health was not regarded as an important issue in the majority of homes within the black community. I very much doubt this was because parents did not care about the state of their children’s mental stability, but more so because their own upbringing failed to highlight the dangers of depression and anxiety. I am absolutely convinced that one of the reasons why my generation is now feeling the effects of a troubled mental health is because of the pressure to live up to expectations. Again, I must reiterate that most parents did not place untoward pressure on a child out of weakness, in fact, it was out of love because they desired the very best for their offspring. However, these expectations create a burden that for some can be almost impossible to bear, which causes a domino effect and sends young men and women into a spiral of mental chaos.
The parental home is not the only place where mental health is often misconstrued and mismanaged. Church institutions, predominantly black churches, seem to miss the signs on a regular occasion. This isn’t an attack on religious bodies but rather a wakeup call to the countless young men and women that have their mind tossed to and fro by a broken mental health. Indeed, a church’s main purpose is centred around your spiritual state, however, choosing to focus on one aspect of a person’s wellbeing, given the complexity of mankind is an extremely dangerous thing to do and could cause much more harm than intended. While I understand the desire to pray away a fading mind, and leave it all to the power of an omnipotent being, it doesn’t change the fact that your mental health still requires a lot of careful attention.
The same can also be said for schools that do not necessarily see mental health as a serious issue in young people because on the surface they look “just fine” and because “they’re young, what do they have to be depressed about?” There are men and women, young and old who are suffering at the hands of an unstable mental health and it’s about time that we as individuals and a community do what we can to instigate change. With the rate of suicide being the highest it’s ever been within the black community, it baffles me how the issue surrounding mental health continues to be a taboo amongst places of work, religious institutions, as well schools and colleges.
The cure for dealing with this particular illness won’t be found in programs and awareness alone even though I am a massive advocate of safe and open forums. The pressing issue won’t be solved by just being sympathetic and emphatic with an individual’s depression and struggles. In all honesty, the answer is actually rather simple…we all need to learn to listen. All one has to do is stop for just one moment and hear for once the real struggles of a strained mind. What many are guilty of, including myself, is listening with an intent to judge, subconsciously we create this motive that we want to help an individual so much that we often forget to take precious time to hear a person’s cry for help. We have to understand that although we may not necessarily have all the answers, that in its entirety is not what is required but rather a safe haven for those who are in a particular bad place mentally.
Shame & Ridicule
One of the reasons why countless men and women refuse to seek help is because of the sheer embarrassment they could face. In all fairness, the majority of shame that one may place on a person who sums up the courage to be open, isn’t because that person is wicked and evil but rather because they have probably been taught to be strong and brush off any sign of vulnerability as simply a moment of weakness. This quite frankly is the biggest issue with mental health particularly in the black community. You will find an incredible amount of R.I.P tweets and Facebook posts, which of course isn’t a problem but that quite frankly doesn’t solve an ongoing dilemma, especially when you as an individual can be a shoulder to lean on even if only in a small capacity. When a person who is struggling with mental health finds the strength to articulate whatever it is they are going through, that is not the time or place to laugh, shame, or degrade them, it’s an opportunity to understand.
A common misconception with any mental health issue is that there has to have been a tragedy that has taken place for you to suffer with depression. This is quite frankly a complete misdiagnosis of the problem. While it is not uncommon to link tragedy to a broken mental health state, it may not always be the reason. However, whether there is a reason or not is somewhat irrelevant to how we handle an individual who may be at breaking point. Mental breakdowns can take its toll on the strongest of individuals, it can happen over a gradual amount of time or come in an instant, with no prior warning. We play a pivotal role in the life of an individual who doesn’t know how to handle what they are facing, whether we are aware of this or not, therefore we must be mindful that in our attempt to help, we don’t search high and low for reasons that may not necessarily be connected to a person’s mental health.
In 2017 and beyond, we have a huge opportunity to breakdown a mind-set that has snatched the lives of so many of our young men and women for countless generations. Therefore, for us to truly achieve this goal we have to stop being afraid of the uncomfortable conversations. We have to let men know they can be emotionally available without them thinking they have been emasculated, and give women the confidence to know there is a safe environment to talk about mental health without fear of humiliation.
Ultimately, it’s about us as individuals being the difference, while we can’t change schools from not seeing the importance of mental health in young kids, neither can we stop religious bodies from simply praying away depression, we can be a lighthouse to those in need by simply being available. While the approach is simplistic in nature, it can be the biggest difference to an individual in need.
My hope and ultimate goal is that we can at least start a healthy conversation about mental health particularly in the black community, a conversation that doesn’t fade away after a couple of months but rather a continuous dialogue that sparks real change.
Words by, Daniel (db Captures)
N.B: Illustration by Patrick Koduah