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We Need to Help Black Women Struggling With Depression

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What the hell do you have to be depressed about?

You don’t need no therapy. Telling white folks all our business ain’t gonna help nothing!

After all our people have been through! You don’t know depressed!

Go to church. Talk to the pastor.

Black folks don’t get them fancy mental problems.

You ain’t depressed. You’re just a little sad.

This is just a tiny snapshot of what is thrown around the black community in reference to mental illness. We do not accept it at all. If you mention it, the conversation will change quicker than a blink. This is why so many of us are struggling. Mental illness is often a taboo in our homes.

I can speculate as to why we’re so quiet. Mental illness is a sign of weakness to some. The expectation seems to be that black women must get it done! All of it! No one has time for being “down.” Bills need to be paid. Kids have to be cared for. Home has to be perfect. Be depressed later. Wanna hear a secret? I used to time my medicine around my kids’ school schedule. I’d drop them off in the morning, come home and take my meds. Pick them up at 3. Do homework. Make dinner. Clean house. Then take meds again. Who cares that I slept all day and accomplished nothing? I was a functioning depressed mom. And this is after I stopped working.

Now I’m a rare bird. When I was in my 20s and realized something was wrong, I sought help. I wasn’t afraid to go to therapy. But I didn’t share it with my family and friends. Definitely not my co-workers. So I was aware there was a stigma surrounding therapy. I was a new mom obsessed with my baby. That was my motivation. Still is. I had to be better for her. For them. This would begin an on and off process for the next 20 plus years of my life.

But I can’t tell you how many friends, family and co-workers I knew who were struggling quietly. We wore “the mask.”

“Hey girl. How are you doing?”

“Fine.” (Insert fake smile)

I couldn’t tell you how many of my sisters were dealing with issues like emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, spousal problems and just plain ole being a black woman in America. Child, we put on some makeup, a good girdle and kept that sh*t movin’! #Aintnobodygottimeforthat family reunions and family gatherings — I’m fine. You want some potato salad? Yup. That’s how we rolled. Quietly exploding. Quietly dying.

Here’s the thing though — mental illnesses can lead to physical illnesses. Heart problems? They can be stress-related. Obesity? Can be stress-related. Headaches and neurological problems? Can be stress-related. And you know what the topper is? We’re too damn busy to go to the doctor! Do you know who diagnosed my first breakdown? My family doctor. She said my body was shutting down. She refused to continue treating migraines and “sadness” without the help of a psychologist. Two months later, I was in the psychiatric ward. And guess what? My doctor was a sister. She would sit with me and just talk some visits. Some days, she was the one who needed to talk. Guess how many doctors prior to that took the time to hear me? I’ll wait…

My family has a long history of mental illness. I never knew. I found out that my grandpa, the love of my life, struggled. What?! If you looked up “man’s man” in the dictionary, you’d see my grandpa. I found out I my grandparents, parents, uncles and cousins also struggled. It wasn’t until after I was sick that I heard about this. And let me tell you, my granny and her sisters, cousins and friends were some of the strongest women I’ve ever met! Honey! The world would have stopped if something was wrong with one of them. But they wore “the mask.” Smiled the “smile.” Made the potato salad.

Mental Health America points out some other common myths in the African American community:

The following statements reflect some common misconceptions about African Americans and depression: “Why are you depressed? If our people could make it through slavery, we can make it through anything.” “When a black woman suffers from a mental disorder, the opinion is that she is weak. And weakness in black women is intolerable.” “You should take your troubles to Jesus, not some stranger/psychiatrist.”

We have to start getting help. We have to start taking care of ourselves. I’m the last one who should talk, but I am. Why? Because this disorder is stifling. Seriously, I can’t even describe a day in my mind and body. Now multiply that by millions. That sister in the next cubicle might be hiding behind a mask. That sister next to you on the train might be dying on the inside. That sister in the alley might be hurting. Stop and really listen. You can hear it. When I get messages in my inbox, I can see it in the fonts! We have to slow down and help our sisters. Our daughters. Yup. My baby has more than my eyes and thighs. Our mothers. Yup. Where do you think I got it from? Our elders. Yup, there is likely a genetic component.

There are maybe 10 books about black women and depression — and that’s a stretch. Most don’t include bipolar disorder, anxiety, OCD, ADD, ADHD, etc. These are mental illnesses too. One author made me so angry because she tried her best to “whiten,” I mean “lighten” up her illness. We don’t need cute. We need ugly. Hideous. Death’s door type shit. That’s the only way our sisters will get a glimpse into the real story. The words behind the words. Then they will realize they are not alone.

I have three sister friends who text me daily. One prays. One says hey. One says I love you. None of them know some days I’m on the edge, thinking about suicide. They just know I’m their sister and I may need a life jacket.

Open your window. Stick your head out and scream: “I’m your sister and I live with a mental illness too! You wanna go out for coffee, martinis, blunts, Newports or fried chicken?”

Meet them where they live. Don’t be ‘shamed. Don’t be prissy. We gotta get dirty, sistahs!

Follow this journey on Diva with Depression.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Unsplash photo via William Stitt.

Originally published: August 8, 2017
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