Let’s talk straight no chaser! When it comes to being a black woman in America a mental illness is the last thing that you would also like to have associated with your name. Take myself for instance, I have dealt with Depression for most of my life and it wasn’t until I was 27 years old that I realized how much I needed help. I never thought about telling anyone in my family about my struggles or even my experiences. So when I decided to create a mental health blog showcasing my life, I knew it was going to be seen as an attention seeking affair. Little did I know how much therapy this blog was going to be not only for me, but for other people who looked like me.
In the mental health community there are very few African Americans. From support groups, rallies, speaking engagements and even research centers we are lacking representation. From my experience alone I have always been the only black person and black woman in many support groups, I have never encountered a black mental health professional and I have never met someone who was open and as honest as I am about their illness. Until recently, I thought that it didn’t even matter.
When I began talking to young, black girls about their daily lives, I was shocked to hear that they were open and honest about their emotions, but felt like no one wanted to listen to them. How is that? How can it be that way when you are born to a mother and father? Shouldn’t they want to listen? Aren’t they asking fact finding questions? How are we not showing compassion to our own children?
Let’s get to the facts…
“Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a real illness. You can get PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event, such as a war, hurricane, sexual assault, physical abuse, or a bad accident. Although you are no longer in danger, PTSD makes you feel stressed and afraid. It affects you and the people around you.
Consumers with PTSD can experience a range of emotions such as flashbacks, hallucinations, “going blank”, detachment from events and others, trouble sleeping, nervousness, or being over aware. PTSD can also be accompanied by other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia.
PTSD does not only effect one age group or race; however, it is proven to be more prevalent in “urban communities”, veterans and patients with other mental disorders. Anyone who has faced a traumatic event like sexual assault, combat, life threatening events or witnessed others, survivors of natural disasters, unexpected loss of someone or illness that caused severe pain or procedures can develop PTSD”(1).
With adequate treatment including psychotherapy, medications and support from family and friends, PTSD can be managed successfully. However, if left untreated, PTSD can last for months and even years depending on the severity.
In the summer of 2005, I was diagnosed with three different mental illnesses (yes it’s possible). The one I had always heard of was PTSD. Growing up I heard the term being used for survivors of rape, bank robberies and really bad car accidents. The term ” I put it in the back of my mind” was always used to describe what PTSD was and how it can come back to haunt you in the future.
I didn’t even feel like I had been involved in something traumatic enough to be considered a mental illness. So when I got the results from my evaluation, I was shocked. I never told the doctors that I was molested, I used to get bullied and threatened at school or I was in an abusive relationship in high school. So how could they have known about the things I locked away?
As I began thinking about it, I had never been asked how I was feeling or what I was feeling when I was at home. It wasn’t a topic of discussion at the dinner table. It wasn’t even a concern anywhere in my home. And I am sure in any black home we have all heard the ” Shut up. I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. Why are you crying?” Those negative statements which some of us have heard, mold us and begin to create other issues.
If a child has gone through something traumatic like maybe being bullied or threatened at school and has not had an outlet to voice their feelings and experience PTSD can begin to develop. So if you can’t feel safe and supported at home, then where else can you feel comfortable when there is no one that looks like you and shares your experiences in your Insurance Coverage Network?
We don’t see black health advocates on television, we don’t even see black people in medication ads or television shows (other than Andre on Empire). It’s as if black people are Immune to mental illness. The characters are superhuman and forever fearless. They don’t have any duality or vulnerability. When I think about segregation and slavery I always think about the long term psychological effects that it had and is still having on black people. With the current racial situations on the rise, PTSD still has a presence in our community.
I don’t think television is the key to representation or the hear all see all as well. If we don’t have prominent medical professionals, qualified programs and black advocates in our communities, we will continue to sweep mental illness under the rug. Yes it is a black or white thing because let’s be real we all choose what’s comfortable for us. And if you feel as though someone will understand your experience, then you would think they will understand what kind of treatment you need.
My question is who will step up?
Lindsay Anderson is the Editor-In-Chief and Founder of ConsciouslyCoping.org, a Mental Wellness social media site that primarily focuses on educating minorities, underprivileged and lower income based families on healthy approaches of managing Mental Illnesses.