Imade-Nibokun

@imade-nibokun | contributor
Imadé Nibokun is a suicide attempt survivor living with clinical depression and borderline personality disorder. She is also an ex-patient of punitive mental hospitals. She founded Depressed While Black, which is an online community, an in-progress book, and a charitable initiative donating Black-affirming personal care items to mental hospital patients. She is working with BEAM to #BuildABlackVision that calls for the defunding of police and psychiatric jails and investment in Black-affirming community-based mental health support.
Imade-Nibokun

What It Means to #BuildABlackVision for Mental Health

Depressed While Black and BEAM (The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective) are partnering to #BuildABlackVision for mental health. #BuildABlackVision includes a national convening to envision a radical future for Black mental health, and a month-long advocacy campaign that highlights the experiences of Black people and mental health, specifically highlighting the violence we experience in psychiatric institutions. The following discussion is between Imade Borha, founder of Depressed While Black and Yolo Akili Robinson, Founder and Executive Director of BEAM. Yolo: Imade, why do you feel this campaign to highlight Black people’s experiences in psych wards and institutions is important? Imade: I know personally how punitive mental hospitals treat Black people. I have been hospitalized twice, and my first hospitalization was far more traumatic than the suicide attempt that preceded it. I thought I would be given therapeutic care, but instead, I witnessed Black patients get physically and chemically restrained, including myself. I was tackled by three-plus nurses and carried into an isolation room after complaining that the hospital’s chaotic atmosphere was making patients worse, not better. The psychiatrist that I had was so incompetent at her job she thought I was bipolar because I wrote in my journal and laughed with my friends who visited me. I was placed on a harsh anti-psychotic drug cocktail though I showed no psychotic symptoms. When I petitioned the court to be released from this hospital, the psychiatrist lied on the witness stand to the State Supreme Court judge that if my mom drove me home, I would jump out of the car. This all happened at a “respected” New York mental hospital and sadly, I know this medical racism is happening across the country. Yolo: Exactly, and the voices of Black people who experience violence and harm in psychiatric institutions are rarely uplifted or documented, and if they are — they are often dismissed as only being about the person’s mental state and not held as viable concerns about care. This makes me think of the many times in our work at BEAM (The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective), where we have asked our community what comes to mind when someone says “mental health” and more often than not someone has said it makes them think of a time a relative or sibling was “taken away” by the state, or a time when someone they knew or they themselves were locked away after experiencing a moment of distress brought on by mania or psychosis. In our country, mental health is often in league with the criminal legal system. But sadly, with the exception of the work of people like Patrisse Khan Cullors and a select few others, the experiences of Black folks with mental illness are not seen as racial justice issues. The deep fear of symptoms of distress or psychosis in our communities has helped hold a divide in organizing and awareness campaigns. But your work has helped bridge that. The voices of Black people who experience violence and harm in psychiatric institutions are rarely uplifted or documented, and if they are — they are often dismissed Yolo: Months ago, you started buying supplies for individuals in mental health institutions. What did you buy and why did you feel these things were important? Imade: Beginning in January, I bought all the Black-affirming personal care items I didn’t have when I felt too much of a burden to ask my mom to visit me during my second stint in a mental hospital. I purchased satin bonnets, wave caps, wide-tooth combs, brushes, hair oils, and many other supplies like Chapstick, tampons, bras, boxers and t-shirts. This became my Mental Hospital Wish List program where I drop off monthly supplies requested by mental health patients. These items may seem trivial on the surface, but they can be essential for Black patients to live in dignity. When I was admitted to a mental hospital for the second time, I came with the dirty clothes I attempted in. I felt like I was literally wearing my trauma. I had to wear clothes from the hospital’s lost and found. And on top of that, I had to wear uncomfortable hospital underwear and pads. I always felt ashy because the hospital didn’t provide Chapstick, hair oils or moisturizer suitable for my dry, African skin. My hairstyle was a wreck by the time I left the hospital. Yolo: Do you think your presentation, specifically as a Black woman, had an impact on your treatment? Imade: Presentation in mental hospitals is important because it can determine the kind of treatment you receive from the hospital staff. In certain cases, you’re denied access. I couldn’t go downstairs to the cafeteria because I had unsuitable clothing. In other cases, perceptions about your presentation can mean being ignored, chemically restrained on harsh medicine and denied needed treatment. I was forced to wear a hospital gown and enter the court building on a stretcher when I faced that State Supreme Court judge. I know my appearance put me on a lower hierarchy than the psychiatrist who wore work clothes. I think that was a major reason why I lost the case. Giving Black patients personal items and clothes can help them self-soothe, present in a way that is true to their identity and realize people deeply care about them. That’s why I do what I do. These items may seem trivial on the surface, but they can be essential for Black patients to live in dignity. Imade: In your work Yolo, how do you help Black folks heal from the trauma of being systemically harmed in spaces such as mental hospitals? What does healing look like? Yolo: Everyone’s healing is unique. But my hope is for BEAM to be a container and a vehicle for us on our collective healing journey. My hope is that BEAM can give people nourishment; through tools, strategies, spaces, resources and dialogue that help us strengthen our capacity to heal ourselves and each other. My hope is that BEAM can connect more and more of us doing healing work, like Depressed While Black, because we need us all to #BuildABlackVision for mental health. And a new vision is desperately needed. And so with our colleagues, a new vision, and a new world, is what we will create. Want to #BuildABlackVision? Go to beam.community/blackvision to learn more and to support Depressed While Black’s Mental Hospital Wish List program that provides Black-affirming personal care items.

Imade-Nibokun

'Cards Against Humanity' Writer Shares Psych Ward Story

Some post-Civil War asylums in the United States looked a lot like slavery. At the time, many white southern physicians believed that freedom causes Black people to be mentally ill. African-Americans in asylums like the Alabama Insane Hospital were given physical labor so the structure of slavery can “cure” them. And during the Civil Rights era, schizophrenia became a “protest diagnosis” to medically incarcerate activists and silence their anger. Even pharmaceutical ads for antipsychotic drugs used images of Black protesters. This is the mental hospital system that Nicolas Carter was forced into . Two years ago, the former Cards Against Humanity writer says he alarmed his white co-workers after questioning why the n-word was used in a proposed card idea. They responded by pathologizing his resistance to racism. Carter’s outspokenness and upbeat mood caused his co-workers to voice concerns about his mental stability. They called Carter’s sister, which resulted in his father driving him to a psychiatric treatment center. According to a hospital document Carter shared, his co-workers’ account of his mental state was considered “more reliable collateral” than Carter’s own perspective as a Black man. Carter says he was prescribed Abilify, which is similar to the antipsychotic drugs used to silence Black protesters. On Carter’s discharge, the hospital stated he no longer has “spontaneous delusions” like the “racial topics” Carter once shared. In his account of this turmoil, Carter proposes a thought-provoking question: “Could the conditions that the institutions of white supremacy tell us we have: anxiety, depression, etc. be side-effects of inequality and oppression?” Black people across the country have expressed symptoms of racial trauma in the shadow of police murders and appalling inaction. Topics like insomnia, panic attacks and depression seem to be common social media conversations. If these symptoms reach a crisis point, harsh treatment could follow. According to the American Psychiatric Association, African Americans are more likely to be admitted into an inpatient facility and less likely to use less invasive interventions like medication and outpatient programs. For Black people with mental health conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar, they are more likely to be incarcerated. This is evident with the nation’s largest psychiatric facilities being jails . African-Americans, already made vulnerable by structural racism that amplifies symptoms, could be placed on a criminalized conveyor belt into psychiatric incarceration. And some don’t survive. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times as likely to be killed by law enforcement . Black individuals like Anthony Hill , Charleena Lyles  and Kayla Moore could still be with their loved ones if the police didn’t kill them during a mental health crisis. The tethering of police officers with crisis response means that a Black transgender woman like Moore could die for having schizophrenia. The history of trans people being abused by the police is why Trans Lifeline , a hotline for and by trans people, does not call 911 or the police unless a person in crisis directly asks for this response . Even when there is no mental health crisis, the police have ordered EMT workers to sedate victims against their will in cities like Minneapolis, Minnesota and Aurora, Colorado. At law enforcements’ demand, medics have injected high doses of ketamine which is an anesthetic drug that can be used for treatment-resistant depression and suicidal ideation. The police use of forced ketamine injection could have possibly caused the death of Elijah McClain . There is a better way. Oregon’s CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) program is a model for addressing psychiatric emergencies with no police involvement. Their response team includes a medic (who is either a nurse or an EMT) and an experienced mental health crisis worker. Though this program is not fully police-free, there have been only 150 police backup requests out of 24,000 CAHOOTS calls since 1989 . This has saved the city of Eugene, Oregon approximately $8.5 million dollars. Building a new vision for mental health means letting Black people decide how they want their minds and bodies to be treated. And right now, activist groups like Movement for Black Lives are demanding an immediate defunding of the police. BEAM and my organization, Depressed While Black, have this same demand as a part of our #BuildABlackVision campaign . We want police divestment that reallocates funding to Black affirming mental health resources like CAHOOTS-style programs. Instead of police officers, Black people could be met with trained peer support who employ both mental health treatment and ancestral healing practices. This crisis response could consensually offer transportation to a community respite center where their friends and family are a part of the treatment process. Our liberation cannot be found in a failing mental health system that can be weaponized against Black people like Carter. He should not have been told that living freely as a Black man is a mental illness over a hundred years after white southern physicians did the same. We need a mental health system where Carter can be treated as the expert of his own experiences. If we look beyond psychiatric jails and policing, we’ll discover that what heals Black people is within Black people.

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Imade-Nibokun

I Can Never Be the Person I Was Before Having Treatment-Resistant Depr

https://mighty-video.s3.amazonaws.com/Branded/2019-10-08_MH_Imade-Janssen-Depression.mp4 Before the meds, the hospitalizations, and the therapists, I was a 25-year-old grad student who imagined what “the one thing” would be that would help me in my struggle with depression. Now, 6 years later, I’m not the same narrow-minded person that I was before my medical disappointments. When I stepped out of a mental health hospital this past year, I realized that I am responsible for my life and that means chasing everything that can help me. Everything, and not just “the one thing.” My belief in “the one thing” began in church when I was younger. My legs dangled from the pews while I watched one person after another testify that their illnesses were instantly healed. Their testimonies were passionate: the “doctor’s report” that looked unfavorable until a second test or the limbs that were suddenly pain-free. They demonstrated how healthy they were by twisting their backs or even jumping in place to prove that prayer relieved their ailments. However, I didn’t hear people with chronic conditions speak about their experiences. I believed that either those people didn’t pray hard enough or they simply didn’t exist. This belief followed me into my struggle with depression later in my life. I felt that not being healed was a sign of personal failure. Shame washed over me that I couldn’t fix myself. Without adequate treatment for my depression, I drove recklessly on highways with tears streaming down my face. I mindlessly dressed in baggy clothes and couldn’t look people in the eye. After I prayed with a minister who affirmed my doctor’s direction to get on meds after my diagnosis of depression six years ago, I was still obsessed with “the one thing” that would alleviate my depression. This was either a dream drug, my writing career, or a romantic relationship. I mythologized these things to epic proportions, but none of them had the supernatural power to ultimately help me. I was seeking “the one thing” in a different form. My hope faded with each bout of depression that followed my ineffective medications, the article pitch rejections from editors, and the unrequited pursuit of love. Most times, I feared that managing my depression was out of reach. It took years to look beyond the treatments that didn’t work and realize that the more I pursued just one solution, the less I could explore the fullness of what life has to offer. Recreational therapy in the hospital reminded me that I had abandoned the things that gave me joy. So in addition to weightlifting, I took dance and voice lessons even when I felt like a child at times. I moved out of my comfort zone and the carefully placed veneer that suppressed my emotions. I stumbled and fell, but every sign of progress felt rewarding because it was the true me that was making these steps. I also created a list of all the things I wanted to do, like traveling, going to concerts, and meeting new friends. I could no longer wait passively for a treatment to work. My life had to be more than “the one thing” that could fix me. Through my journey, I have learned that treatment-resistant depression can give you a greater sensitivity to what you can and cannot handle. I didn’t realize how much I was ignoring my needs until a mental health crisis after my hospitalization forced me to quit my journalism job. But what I lost due to treatment-resistant depression created room for more in my life. If I didn’t leave my job, I wouldn’t have gained another career opportunity where my mental health challenges are an asset to my organization and not a burden. Now, I have a greater understanding of the environment I need in order to thrive. My mental health treatment is a lot more comprehensive – it includes medication, herbal treatments, therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a type of therapy that aims to identify and change negative thinking patterns. If I could go back in time and stand up in that church as the 31-year-old woman I am today, I would testify that treatment-resistant depression made me a better person. I am more accepting of myself and have found a community of compassionate people who can relate to my struggles. I would tell that young woman in the pews that in the fight for her life, her worth is not in how fast she is “cured” or how well she can prove her spirituality. She is born worthy. She is born valuable. And one day she’ll be able to demonstrate her joy as a person with depression. Imade Nibokun is partnering with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to share her story. She has been paid an honorarium for her time.