May is mental health awareness month. We have made it to the seventeeth blog of this year and we are getting into the depthness of why we as Black people avoid the topic of mental health. Is it because Black people are too strong for a disorder or is it because we fear being diagnosed means weakness? Let's find out below.
Fear of Being Labeled Weak
In the Black Community being called weak is enough to throw them blows. For those of you who are Urbanly-challenged, throw them blows means get into a physical altercation. Calling a Black person weak is enough to fight over because of our history of slavery. The modern history of Black people is a story of perseverance and struggle. The Black people we see today whether they are DOS (descendants of slaves) U.S. Natives, Continental Africans, South/Central American Blacks or DOS Caribbean Natives all have a similar story of survival in the worst of times. Often the narrative is if our ancestors had to survive slavery then what do YOU have to complain about? People use every day stresses as a measuring tool to dismiss the mental health because of what our ancestors had to bear without any comfort or acknowledgment. What these people either don't know or conveniently don't mention is that mental health was wide spread in enslaved Blacks during slavery.
For example, back in 1745 in South Carolina an enslaved woman named Kate was jailed for committing infanticide. Later it was determined she was "out of her senses" and her owner was too poor to pay for her confinement that they labeled Kate a lunatic and passed a law that each parish in the colony were responsible for the up keeping of lunatic slaves. In today's society we would have said Kate had PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and post partum and a host of other mental health disorders due to being a SLAVE. Stress is enough to cause a person we'd normally call easy going, 'crazy', 'neurotic', 'weird' etc. because the part of the brain that deals with logic (left side) is stuck and can't think rationally. The limbic system which deals with emotions is heavily impacted by our logic. That's why when someone is under stress they might sound 'crazy' because whatever they are saying isn't rational and their emotions are all over the place. This is why when we know someone is under stress that we should not add on more stress on their plate. Instead we can do something simple as listening to their issues and if we can provide aid, please do. Many people just need to vent because it's hard being the "strong" person all the time. A listening ear and compassion goes a long way. And if the person's issue is too taxing, why not suggest seeking a mental health provider.
Fear of Being Labeled Crazy
Depending on how the word crazy is used it might actually be a compliment. Example: ‘Don't you mess around with Katrina, you know she's crazy and don't play that mess.’ As off-putting as that sentence might seem, it's actually a badge of honor to some because Katrina has a tough reputation so people who would abuse or manipulate her would think twice about doing so. Think about it in the terms of a scare tactic byway of a reputation but in the term of mental health, being labeled as crazy is an insult. In this same example let's say it's a known fact that Katrina has bipolar disorder and the stigmatization of people who are diagnosed with bipolar are crazy then the same sentence, ‘Don't you mess around with Katrina, you know she's crazy and don't play that mess’ is now a shaming tactic to ostracize Katrina. The clinical term for bipolar disorder is manic depressive disorder. Manic meaning extremely excitable mood. Depressive meaning an extreme despondency and dejection. Manic depressive in its most simplistic definition means mood swings from highs to lows. Making commentary based on knowing someone cannot control their moods based on a chemical imbalance in their brain isn't only rude but it's shaming. It makes the person feel very self-conscious and unable to ask for help when going through an episode. 15% of people who suffer from bipolar disorder commit suicide. About 80% of people who suffer bipolar disorder have had thoughts about suicide. Instead of using suicide as a punchline to a sick joke, how about learning more about bipolar disorder so you can know when this person is going through an episode and when the episode is over talk about what the episode was like so you can better assist your loved one.
Fear of Religion Failing To Make Symptoms Go Away
The old time saying of leave it up to Jesus... In the Black community church is benevolent. You can't say anything about the church and you definitely can't say anything other than I love Jesus. I won't bash what anyone beliefs, worship whatever makes you feel whole but we as Black people need to be real about the limitations of religion. You can keep praying to Jesus, Allah, Buddha or whoever else you believe in BUT understand that professionals are compassionate enough and educated enough to support any type of mental illness with a judge-free mentality. It must be comforting to know that the GOD you believe in will always love you regardless of what you do and what issues you may have but humans have the same quality of care as well. These humans are professionals and they will help you immediately whether it is medication, therapy sessions or peer support etc. You can still keep your religious beliefs and routines plus add on extra support through mental health care. Professions will assist you with kind care until the right doses are found, the right therapist is scheduled, the right support group is comforting. You defintely don't have to go through this process alone.
Fear of Being Isolation
No one likes being isolated regardless of suffering from mental health disorder or not. Knowing that people tip toe around you or ignores you is a lonely feeling. Being ostracized because of having a health condition that you cannot control will decrease your motivation to upkeep your medication intake or possibly cause you to spiral out of control, relying on substances like drugs, alcohol etc. Those substances will conflict with your medication whether depressants or stimulants and will have a negative effect on the chemical balance of your brain. The human experience takes a toll on us all. But when you're dealing with mental health it's even more of a burden. The least we can all do is to include everyone as much as possible. Be compassionate about mental health highs and lows. Leave your biases at the door. Don't be afraid to ask questions to understand the disorder to be more supportive.
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