OPINION: Black community mental health

“It’s OK to not be OK, and it’s also OK to let someone know you aren’t well.”
(Photo provided by Sade Lewis)

The discussion around mental health can make people feel uncomfortable, or embarrassed. Because of that it is an endlessly silenced topic. But if people dismiss their apprehensiveness by speaking up, they are ostracized.

This fear of not being able to have a voice while dealing with an ongoing mental illness is even more relevant within the black community. There are over 200 types of mental illness. Common ones include: depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia nervosa, to name a few.

It is said that mental illness affects everyone at some point, whether it’s through a family member, friend or colleague, and 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness.

Why is that? Mental illness doesn’t discriminate or isolate. There is no running from it, which means it can have a serious impact on absolutely anyone. What’s quite interesting is that this issue is not disussed within the black community. Have you ever seen a television show or a blockbuster movie where the main character has a mental illness and is black? Or how about in really good novel? It’s either very rare or non-existent. Why?

As a child, what did you do when you realized you weren’t feeling well? You would tell someone. Or if you fell and scraped your knee, an adult would ask, “Are you OK?” and your response would most likely be, “No. It hurts.” As children we’re so vulnerable and life seemed so simple. But as young adults, young black adults, we’re struggling to find the words to tell someone that we’re not OK.

It’s a lot easier said than done. We’ve all experienced emotional pain in one way or another. My pain comes from the loss of my two cousins — one who died a bit over a week before school returned. I’m the type to keep everything bottled up and not express how I feel. I wrote and read a eulogy at my cousin’s funeral, where I expressed and laid out every bit of emotion that was drowning in the pit of my stomach. Once I finished reading in front of everyone, I felt quite a bit of relief.

It’s OK to not be OK, and it’s also OK to let someone know you aren’t well. We need to ignore the judgments of people around us, whether they are family or friends. You need to take the time to worry about yourself because, at the end of the day, your mental health is what’s most important.

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