Being Black With a Mental Illness



Mental wellness is imperative inside the Black community for several reasons. We are more likely to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to exposure to violent crimes. Young African American males also have a higher rate of suicide. Not dealing with mental issues can make your day-to-day life harder. Here’s my story about how I found out I had a mental illness.


Growing Up

As a kid, I experienced many stressful moments. I never considered them as stressful, but as a part of life. It’s very common in the black community for everyone to tell you to pray about your troubles and move forward whenever you’re going through something. The Bible does tell us not to be “anxious over anything” however, this can be difficult as a young person as you’re still developing your faith in God. For most black people, their faith and spirituality is their only source of emotional support. It can be isolating because after you pray and still have worries, how are we supposed to manage? Prayer was simply not enough for me.


I developed my own coping mechanisms because no one ever talked about anything dealing with mental wellness outside of prayer. When I was little, my grandmother told me cleaning made her feel better so I adopted that mindset. I’m also an emotional eater. Regardless of how I’m feeling, I like to feel better with food. Those things never really made me feel better about my issues. Those mechanisms helped me bottle up my issues. Sometimes I felt like a shaken-up bottle of soda waiting to explode on the wrong person. People saw my reactions and misjudged me. I didn’t even have a good understanding of my personal struggles so I was very defensive when someone else would pass unfair judgment on me. They didn’t see me having to calm myself down from my panic attacks at home or when I would sit in my room isolated for hours. I decided to keep to myself out of fear of being judged or misunderstood.


My first experience with depression was after I graduated high school. That year I encountered a few deaths in our family as well as a childhood friend. I looked forward to attending college in the fall but, I felt so empty that summer. I was closely connected to my high school and had major anxiety about moving away. Leaving town was going to be a huge transition since I grew up in the same house, the same group of friends and the same school. While my friends were beginning summer vacations and summer school, I was working. I didn’t have time to hang out with them before I left. At the time, I didn’t know I was experiencing depression. I thought I was upset because we were on different schedules. I got so deep in my depression, I seriously considering taking my own life by the end of summer. I felt life was pointless and I didn’t belong here. I told myself I’d rather end my life than continue feeling this way. Everything changed when I went to college.


College Troubles

I thought my anxiety and depression was only going to get worse when I moved. I had no friends and little social skills in the beginning. Being depressed felt like carrying a ton of invisible bricks on your shoulders. You don’t know how to take the weight off because you can’t see it. It’s even more isolating because no one knows what you’re going through. I stayed quiet about my mental wellbeing because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was ungrateful for being able to go to college. I considered going to college as a privilege and I thought to say how I felt would be a bad look. So I suffered in silence for a while.


It took a lot of time and work on myself to get rid of my depression. I had to actively make changes daily in my life to feel better. I had to convince myself live was worth living. I also had to be determined to overcome this. I still didn’t know I battled depression until after the fact. It wasn’t until someone I knew committed suicide that I did research and saw I matched many of the symptoms. I did more research and decided to get professional help from our campus counseling services. After a semester of going to an experienced counselor, I felt a true difference. The tons of bricks I’ve been carrying since my childhood was finally starting to lighten up. I still battle with my anxiety, but I know myself well enough now to manage it in healthy ways. Anxiety is a daily battle. I chose to manage mine without any prescribed medication, but this is not the case for everyone.


How I Manage

Be Honest

I think the first step to becoming more mentally healthy is being honest with yourself and others around you. Trying to ignore those emotions you’re feeling will only make matters worse. Also, sending out a false message to those around you will make you feel more isolated. Telling the truth is very difficult, but it can and will set you free from negativity.


Pray & Meditate

Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed, I always try to pray about my issues. For me, prayer can help release negative energy and give you the power you need to move forward. In addition to praying, I often meditate. Setting aside time to be more mindful about your issues and trying to find practical solutions can be quite helpful.


Exercise

When you’re mentally exhausted, getting some good physical exercise can recharge your batteries. I try to be active at least once a week (I know I need to be more active, but something is better than nothing). Exercising releases chemicals in your brain that help makes you feel happier. Plus, who doesn’t think running until your problems seem small isn’t a good idea?


Examine My Social Circle

It’s so important to be around positive energy even if you aren’t battling something. I do not hesitate to remove and block people who only give off negative vibes. I must protect my energy. This includes social media and person-to-person. Remember, you don’t have to give people warnings and explanations when they are being toxic to you.


Talk to Professionals

Sometimes, we need help to process our emotions and thoughts when we aren’t feeling our best. Getting professional help has saved my life when I was going through a difficult year in college. My counselor really helped me. Having an unbiased person listen and empathize can help you too.


If you are struggling with your mental health in any way, please seek help. You are not expected you go through internal struggles alone. Go to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for resources or call 1-800-273-8255. You are more than your struggles. I believe in you.


What do you do to stay mentally healthy?