I’ve talked about mental illness many times in my blogs a lot because I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. I know that we have really been talking about it as a race because of some of the “crazy” things we’ve been seeing from celebrities. The biggest and first one that usually comes to mind is Kanye West. Some people say that there is nothing wrong with him while others say that he suffers from some sort of mental illness. In MY opinion he, like many people that suffer from mental illness, suffers from a number of mental illnesses. I would say that narcissism is one but it could also be one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Why did I bring his name up and “bipolar disorder”? Well, if you haven’t been under a rock, you know that he has recently come out with a new project called “Ye” and on the cover it says “It hate being bipolar, it’s awesome”. Now I need to write another blog about how people that suffer from the illness are responding (actually, I made a blog some years ago called People Just Don’t Get It about this subject) but, right now, I want to talk about how we African Americans treat mental illness.
As I say often, I have a BS in Psychology and I also have LIFE EXPERIENCE in psychology. I didn’t have the worst upbringing but I didn’t have the best upbringing. It definitely could have ended a lot worse. I was always a very good student. I was shy. I have three siblings (I am child #3 of 4 but the youngest girl). I came from a two parent family. However, it was a split religion household which caused some issues. My dad, although a good provider, suffered from PTSD and alcoholism. I am not saying this to air his dirty laundry but I say this to indicate that your upbringing can have a big impact on your mental health. It’s funny, however, that I feel that I was the only one that was impacted mentally by the things that I saw and/or heard. I had a violent temper but, because I was a great student and pretty much quiet, there were no real warning signs. No counselor would look at me weird because it didn’t seem like anything was wrong. My temper, however, was not a simple one and it got to the point that I had to learn how to not get mad at anything instantly. I had to give people the three strike rule because I used to get so mad that I started having chest pains in my teenage years. I knew something was wrong at that point. But the beliefs of black folks is a bit different when it comes to mental illness:
- Many of us feel that we need to handle things on our own
- Many of us self medicate
- Many of us think that praying to God will fix the situation
- Many of us don’t want people in our business
- Many of us think that mental illness or just a bout of depression instantly means you have to take drugs (there are many different types of therapy and some don’t even involve medication)
- Many of us are scared of being called “crazy”
I mean, I could probably go on but these are just SOME of the reasons. When we don’t take care of ourselves, we continue a cycle that can go on for generations. I can probably say that I have encouraged at least two ex boyfriends to seek out help and it helped them tremendously. Smoking and drinking is self medication. Yet, where is the negative stigma attached to that? We have a lot of people (especially men) walking around suffering on a daily basis and taking it out on the wrong people but drinking and smoking to get past some of the pain that they never coped with correctly. And the only way that I can encourage people to do so is to open myself up and listen. People are vulnerable around me and I feel that it is a gift that people feel that they can open up to me without feeling as though they will be judged.
In 2008, I was put into a psych ward for 5 days. The patients would rather talk to me than the actual counselors that worked there. Yes, I was in there for going off with a knife BUT it was because I didn’t take my meds (another reason why meds are important for ME personally) but the patients truly just felt that I was on their level and didn’t look down on them. Shoot, I was where they were. It was then that I decided to finish my degree in Psychology.
The more stories I hear on the news about people with mental illness, the more I want to help. The more I want to go back to school and obtain my Master’s but the way my money is set up….. LOL I just want to advocate for people. When I saw how people responded to Kanye’s rant around the anniversary of his mother’s death AND the robbery of his wife, I said THEN that I didn’t think that he really coped with him mom’s death and THEN another woman he loved almost got taken away from him. So when they had put him away for a while, I understood it while our African American people were siting here laughing at this man while drinking themselves into a stupor to cope with the stressors that plague them on a daily basis. We have got to do better. I don’t have a problem telling people that I suffer from bipolar disorder. Why? Because I (mostly) know how to take care of it. Some days (or even weeks) are worse than others but I still truck through because I have to for my little family.
When I was in school, I shared a lot of what I learned with my Facebook friends to give them more of an understanding of what depression and other mental illnesses is like. I have my favorite theorist as well. Erik Erickson is my absolute favorite theorist because he talked about developmental psychology and the stages that we go through from birth. These stages shape how we move on to the next stage. If we fail, we do a lot of damage to ourselves and we continue to have to try to make up for the failure. (As I am typing this, I just watched Jackie Christie on Basketball Wives talk to her psychologist for the first time and what did she say? She said that she didn’t go to the psychologist in the past because she felt that if you did, that meant that something was wrong with you. More proof of what I was saying. Black people, we HAVE to get out of this. We have to. If we don’t, we’re just going to pass toxic cycles onto our children.)
When you fail these stages, you either work harder to meet the next challenge to get to the next stage successfully or you just continue to decrease in the quality of your personality. So a lot of people are messed up from early on in their lives. Not to mention nature vs nurture. That’s the age old debate. I have three siblings. We were all reared in the same environment. So why are we all different and why do we all react differently to life as far as love, successes, and failures? Our personalities were formed by how we went through these stages. Okay, maybe I’m going on too much. But I love Erik Erickson to death. If you want to read more about the stages of development, go here.
Shoot, where was I? Bottom line: We need to remove the stigma of mental illness. I didn’t get diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder until the age of 20 when I was able to obtain my own insurance. I was told by my mom that I needed to pray more to God to help me. And I communicated my issues in my teens. I feel that I was treated a lot differently than my older sisters because they kind of broke my teenage years by doing crap that wasn’t cool so I was constantly accused of doing things I wasn’t supposed to do. Sad thing is that I was darn near a perfect student in school. I didn’t skip school. I got great grades, and I was pretty much a nerd. Anyone that you ask in high school that knew me (because I wasn’t popular) knew that I didn’t do anything but go to school and read and that I was a “knick knocker” the word they used for Jehovah’s Witness. I stayed out of trouble but was constantly accused of doing things I had no business. I’m sure that had a little to do with it. There was also verbal abuse but I don’t hold any grudges. Why? Because I LEARNED about mental illness and learned to understand why people did what they did. My dad was a Vietnam Vet. You tell me how many of them were right in the head after that. I’ll wait. I had an uncle that was one too. Sad part is that that PTSD was no joke and led a lot of them to alcoholism. With this knowledge, however, I know that I am predisposed to alcoholism so I don’t drink.
What we have to do is look at our lives and think about why we do the things we do. This takes a lot of self evaluation and sometimes learning about our parents and why they were the way they were. It’s not about pointing fingers and playing the victim though. It’s about learning from our past and breaking the cycle.
There is NOTHING wrong with having a mental illness. Just learn how to cope with it and move on from there. It will not be easy. I know it won’t be easy because I went through a lot to get to the point that I am at at this point and I have come a long way. My siblings and some people that have been around when I was violent will tell you that I don’t allow little things to piss me off like they used to and it’s partially because of the meds and learning my triggers. I also learned how to disengage. Yes, I walk away (I just advise people never to follow me).
Having a mental illness and overcoming it or managing shows more strength than many people know. You can continue to live your life just like others when you know what you’re working with. With that said, please do some self evaluation and really put things into perspective before it is too late. Unfortunately, they are throwing people with legit mental illnesses into prison with people without them. They are cutting funding for programs for people with mental illnesses because they feel there is no need for it when we can look around everywhere and see people walking around in denial and self medicating.
In summary (for the the millionth time), just take some time to do some self evaluation. Also, pay very good attention to your friends. They could be showing signs of mental illness and you might be missing the signs. I have had my own family miss the signs until I attempted suicide or went off the rails.
Have a nice day yall!