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How I'm Opening Up Conversations Around Mental Health in Communities of Color

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It all started with a suicide attempt – eight months following my major depression and generalized anxiety disorder diagnoses. After 10 years of struggling with suicidal thoughts, I could no longer mask my pain. Upon waking up in a psychiatric unit, I knew hiding this secret was doing more harm than good. I often wondered why I could not tell family and friends about my illness, and that’s when I realized my community’s lack of acceptance and knowledge often prevents people of color from seeking treatment. I thought there was no way I could be mentally ill. I have a master’s degree from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, but I was mistaken. Mental illness does not discriminate in any way, shape or form.

By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others not to give up on life, even though they may be in a dark place and have no desire of coming out. I understand. After being in a depression for so long, it gets comfortable but then one day, you get to a breaking point. A permanent solution to a temporary problem was not worth ending my life. I did not understand that when I was sick, but I do now. There are resources to help you. You do not have to face anything alone.

As a result, I am launching the Fireflies Unite podcast on January 1, 2018, with a teaser being released on December 1, 2017, via iTunes and on my website. The weekly podcast will provide an in-depth conversation about mental health and illness within communities of color. The podcast will feature personal interviews of individuals living with a mental illness, mental health professionals, offer best self-care practices on how to manage mental health and provide listeners with the opportunity to engage by addressing their concerns via the journal entry segment. Mental illnesses such as major depression, bipolar generalized anxiety, eating disorders and borderline personality disorder will be discussed.

Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of negative stereotypes about mental health, blacks are less likely to receive treatment. The lasting impact of slavery, poor medical treatment examples like the Tuskegee experiment, limited access to quality healthcare, education and poverty puts blacks at a high risk of developing mental illness.

Blacks of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than those that are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Blacks are also twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, which was found in a study by the American Psychological Association.

The name was birthed through my realization of seeing what the “mental health secret/stigma” did to me as well as communities of color. Fireflies come out at night and create a beautiful light.

When people battle with a mental illness or struggle emotionally, they often isolate themselves and are left in a place of darkness. By normalizing the conversation about mental health within communities of color, I am bringing light to darkness to foster healing, mental wellness and empowerment.

My mission is to encourage communities of color to see that mental illness is not limited to the man or woman walking down the street talking to themselves. It also includes “high-functioning” people like me. It is my hope that people of color will use the Fireflies Unite platform to obtain the resources they need to manage their mental health. I want to see my community healthy, despite the disadvantages and racism that might negatively impact our mental health.

Learn  more about Fireflies Unite here.

 Lead image via contributor

Originally published: December 6, 2017
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