Mental Health Stigma, Targeting the Black Community: Young, Black, & Not Okay.

By Cevin Faudoas

The ultimate pain is feeling like you’re sitting in the middle of a street, suffocating, and no one can see you.  Feeling like your suffering is invisible to the world, as well as the torment you have stirring inside, no one can help you or cares about you. Your life is flashing before your eyes. A million thoughts running through your mind, but not a single person to tell them to. You think eventually someone will notice you aren’t okay and save you, but that hope immediately becomes a dream that’ll never be a reality. The worst part is, this kind of pain is incurable, and that is how I have felt my entire life. 

Black people have been brainwashed to believe that depression and other mental issues are a weakness. Specifically speaking, people born into generation “y” and generation “z” tend to avoid dealing and coming to terms with their feelings. Most of them thrive on the assumption that they are either too good for them, don’t possess a need to address them, or that they simply just cease to exist. The conversation black young adults need to have about their feelings is long overdue, mainly because it’s negatively affecting their mental health.  

What black young adults are going through, typically are unseen because they are forced by many factors to hide behind a socially constructed mask. Factors that include (but not limited to) family, financial stability, or parental relationships. This causes an oxymoronic pain because their culture is the cause. Black culture is stronger than narcotics. Such a powerful culture influences who you have to be and what you can and cannot do. Emotions easily remain hidden by personality traits like humor and charm.

 I’ve Personally seen men self-destruct from depression and anxiety because of the way they were raised or because of an added layer of masculinity painted on by their nationality and cultures.  One of my friends, a black male of caribbean descent, is known for his humor and ability to make anyone in a room laugh hysterically, but I am the only one who is aware of the pain he feels everyday because his father never spoke to him and his mother is dead. On the outside it seems like he’s got it all together, and that’s because he has to seem this way. If the opposite were to happen it would make him seem weak. Black people hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors. 

“I would say sadness is an emotion that I typically don’t show. When i’m not happy I normally feel like something’s missing… to deal with this pain, I normally just run or play football” said Shaquan Marryshow, 19 year old black male. Self-destruction is a tough point to get to, once reached there’s no way to look back at it without the memory of the cause of it. I remember waking after my first suicide attempt, and wanting to have some sort of outlet, then never receiving it. According to the US HSS Office of minority health, while black teenagers are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, black teens are more likely to attempt suicide (8.3 percent vs. 6.2 percent).  

Never having a chance to speak about how you feel keeps emotions from being expressed and only enhances the pain. People wonder why teens cope by drinking and smoking, and the reason is because they sincerely believe that drugs and alcohol do a better job at pacifying their pain than their families can. The issue that is faced with not expressing our emotions through communication directly has to do with the ways in which people were raised. Many Black parents are often heavily insensitive when it comes to emotions, sadness and depression. “Growing up, I was taught relatively early that being sad and feeling inferior to other people is a form of ungratefulness. If I was ever feeling sad, I was always told I have a roof over my head, so there’s nothing to be sad about. Any time I did bring up my feelings, they were deemed as not important and inferior to my parents feelings and I never really figured out why. I didn’t grow up with a lot so I just always learned to make do with what I have, and deal with my issues myself,” said Mariah Ragland, 17 year old black high school student born in a low income neighborhood. Mental health conversations were never had because that would lead parents to believe that something is wrong with the way they raised their child. 

Why is it that people have to feel this way when it comes to something that should be as simple as addressing and solving a problem? Black children are conditioned to believe that it is disrespectful to stand up for yourself, most importantly to their parents because they gave birth to them. Their parents have brainwashed them to believe speaking freely equated disrespect, rather than seeking knowledge through curiosity. The problem is that black parents fail to understand the severity of mental health and how their behavior has affected us. Black families would rather lean heavily on religion for support than to speak with their children about their problems, which is what drives us into depression. 

As I go down my timeline on social media and in real life, I notice there’s a fair amount of people my age who are currently wallowing in self loathe, myself included. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to recognize that my feelings mattered. Depression is real. Mental health is important. Black people don’t work through depression, instead we find ways to work with it, which bleeds into the ways we live our daily lives. 

Seven months ago, was the last time I almost lost my life to depression. Black people, we have to do a better job at recognizIng mental health issues and depression within each other, rather than seeing people going through a problem and ostracizing it. If this conversation is never had, then we will continue to pass on these traumatic situations onto future generations.

Citations 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Mental Health. (2016). Mental health and African Americans. Retrieved from http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=24

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