I remember being about 16 years old, struggling with depression, and wanting to die. Drowning in emotional pain and loneliness, I desperately needed a life jacket. Instead of reaching out for help, I continued to suffer in silence primarily because of the stigma around mental health in the Black community. As a Black woman, it seemed easier for me to continue to try and deny my mental health issues than it was to actually open up about the depression, and risk being judged and misunderstood. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I finally broke the silence about my struggle with depression and sought the help of a therapist, which was extremely difficult, but has made a huge difference in my life.
We don’t talk about mental health enough within communities of color, even though there are so many of us who have silently dealt with depression and anxiety, and all of the other emotional and psychological effects of experiences such as complex and intergenerational trauma, community violence, racism, and oppression, just to name a few.
So, how do we begin to address the mental health stigma in our community while also addressing our mental health needs?
BREAK THE SILENCE
How do we go about doing that? I’m glad you asked! We start by acknowledging to ourselves and those trusted people around us that we are struggling with our mental health. This is, by far, one of the hardest and most important parts of your healing journey. I remember when I finally decided to talk to someone about my depression and mental health struggles, I was in such a dark place and was flooded with thoughts such as:
“I don’t want to seem weak! After all, I’m a strong Black woman and I’m supposed to be able to handle anything.”
“No one will understand what I’m going through”
“I don’t want all of these people knowing my business!”
“How can I be a therapist and admit that I, too, have struggled with depression?”
“I’m supposed to be the helper, not the one who needs help.”
“I can’t say that I’m depressed because that would mean that I don’t really believe that God can heal me.”
And the list goes on and on. I first opened up to someone who was neither a relative nor close friend at the time, but someone who I trusted to listen, be non-judgmental, and support me in getting the help that I needed. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that the person you choose to open up to is someone you trust to be non-judgmental and supportive. Understand that they may not end up being someone from your inner circle. After a very honest and vulnerable conversation, I had myself a good “cry of relief” in her office that day. That gave me more courage to then open up to my family and friends, and start the search for a good therapist.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
I’ll be the first to admit, it’s hard to think about sharing the most vulnerable parts of yourself with a complete stranger. It’s already hard enough to talk about mental health struggles with those closest to you! But let me give you a few reasons why talking to a therapist is so worth it:
They are professionally trained to help you address your mental health issues. That means that they have the expertise and experience to help you navigate some of your most difficult emotional and psychological struggles.
Therapists are unbiased and non-judgmental, so it’s ok to bring all the dirty laundry to session because that is YOUR safe space.
Therapists can offer fresh perspectives on situations, helping you to better understand your current struggles.
And here are some important things to keep in mind about therapy:
Find a therapist who is a good fit for what YOU need! That means the first therapist you meet with might not be the right one for you. I went through four therapists before I found “the one”. Don’t give up. Once you find a therapist who is a good fit for you, and you can really begin to do some of that work toward healing, it’ll change ya life! Trust me!
Your therapist is a member of your wellness team, but is not the captain: YOU ARE! So again, be ready and willing to do the work!
Change doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, sometimes uncovering all of the hurt, pain, and dysfunction can make things seem worse before they get better. Just remember, healing is not linear and it takes time.
If you’re not ready for people to know you are seeing a therapist, it’s okay. That is something you share in your own time with those who are part of your support system. You just focus on getting the help that you need.
We are not immune to mental health issues, and it is not a badge of disgrace to admit that you may be struggling and need a little extra support. By breaking the silence and seeking help, we can begin to eliminate the stigma around mental health and focus on getting the help we need to live well. Speak your truth, unashamedly, and encourage those around you to do the same. Our mental health matters.
The Writer Behind the Writing:
DiTallianna Patterson, MSW, LCSW is a trained trauma therapist currently practicing in the State of Texas. She created the Melanin Mental Health Initiative in 2017, which aims to reduce mental health stigma, provide information and support, and promote healing within communities of color, all while normalizing mental health dialogue. She also makes it a priority to share personal insights from her own experience with depression.
To learn more about the Melanin Mental Health Initiative, like and follow the Initiative on Facebook and Instagram by clicking the link below, or contact DiTallianna via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.