Globally, the month of May is recognized as Mental Health Awareness month. Its purpose is to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, the realities of living with these conditions and strategies for attaining sound mental health and wellness. While lack of mental health awareness exists in all parts of the world, people of African descent continue to suffer due to lack of knowledge, resources and existing stigmas.
Growing up in an African household, the phrase “mental health” did not exist in our vocabulary. The only time you are asked, “how do you feel?” was because of a physical illness. This demonstrates that many people do not understand the correlation between a sound mind, body and spirit. The United Nations article on Mental Health Illness: Invisible but Devastating accurately describes how much mental health is prioritized in African countries – “in September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly included mental health and substance abuse in the global Sustainable Development Goals, marking the first time world leaders recognized mental health as a global priority.” Fact is, many people of African descent suffer from mental health issues such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, bipolar disorder and many others; in extreme situations, can lead to suicide. For many black people, these mental health illnesses stem from early exposure to violence, sexual molestation, substance abuse, war and poverty.
Now, why should we care about our mental health?
“We Are Strong and Stressed”
It is especially critical that black women take charge of our mental health. Till today, black women have always be associated with being strong and well-rounded, however, being the backbone of a family comes with sacrifices. According to this article by the New York Times, Strong and Stressed Black Woman, it describes the black woman as “a cultural icon, born of black women’s resilience in the face of systemic oppression that has dismantled families and made economic stability a formidable challenge. She is self-sufficient and self-sacrificing. She is a provider, caretaker and homemaker. And often, she is suffering.”
For this reason, we must learn to prioritize our mental health by taking some time off to do things we enjoy – journaling, hanging out with the girls, seeing your therapist, weekend get away or simple quiet time – and shut out the societal pressures to be perfect at all times.
Become the Best Version of YOU
In her interview with The Guardian called The ‘Strong Black Woman’ Stereotype is Harming Our Mental Health, Marverine Cole, a British-Jamaican woman, states that “talking about anything personal was just something we didn’t do in our family.” She proceeds to mention that “the trope of the steely, resolute black woman is ingrained in society, and helps fuel a growing problem with depression and self harm.” Without a sound mental health, we cannot perform to the best of our abilities. Compounded by the societal pressures of being “strong”, we burn ourselves out to the point where we literally cannot function. Spending time with yourself and prioritizing your mental health, increases your productivity and ability to express, feel and manage all your emotions. Best put by Dr. Erica Martin Richards, “women should be reminded that attending to their own needs, whether physical or emotional, doesn’t make you weak. It makes you better able to care for your loved ones in the long run.”
Change the Narrative for the Future Generation
With our natural capability of birthing children, we can influence the narrative of tomorrow’s mental health discussions. For many of us in the Diaspora, there are so many resources to educate yourself and your family. Dr. Erica Martin Richards recommends “as much as possible, decline requests that create unnecessary stress, such as hosting parties or planning events. Setting boundaries at work, such as not checking email after a certain time, can also help reduce stress.” Practicing and passing on these simple tasks, will help the future generation to prioritize their mental health just as they would their physical bodies. According to the United Nations, many African & Caribbean countries are slowly making progress by building mental health & psychiatric hospitals to care for those who are mentally ill.
In effort to make sure our community is well educated on the topic of mental health, Ivery Arie has put together some resources to jump start your journey to a sound mind. Check out our Mental Health Resources Article for African Women.
We would love to hear more about how you care for your mental health. Please comment below!