Growing up, my parents always placed special emphasis on taking care of your body and visiting the doctor regularly. They took me to the doctor when I was sick or needed a physical. They made sure I saw a dentist and had my teeth cleaned at least twice a year. They even sent me to a dermatologist in my teen years to treat my horrible acne. (It was truly horrific!) It wasn't until I became an adult that I realized, they never took me to have my feelings looked at. I was never taught the importance of treating and maintaining my mental health. It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s and 13 flavors of messed up that I realized I had been neglecting my mental health. In 2015, I began my journey to mental wellness, but I had some questions.
Why hadn't my parents pushed me to care for my mental and emotional the same way they pushed me to care for my physical?
Why haven't any of my friends gone to therapy?
Why do people in my community make fun of people who seek help with their mental wellness?
I was baffled. So, I started thinking about the “why” and here we are. There were several factors that play a role in the neglect of mental health in the black community, but I managed to narrow it down to 3. Here they are:
1. Limited resources + poverty = lack of knowledge on importance of mental health.
I grew up in a very small, poverty stricken, rural town. The closest thing we had to a licensed therapists was the school counselor. In terms of healthcare, we barely had enough resources for physical care. I've since moved to a larger city, where there are doctors, clinics, therapist and psychologists galore, but what about the people in my small hometown? There are minimal health care resources there and DEFINITELY no licensed therapist. Living in a place where poverty is prevalent and where there are limited medical resources in general, can make it difficult for people to recognize the importance of caring for themselves mentally. It might as well be an urban myth! The kicker in this situation is that places that have higher poverty rates are the places that need therapy the most. Those who live in poverty have a higher likelihood for mental health issues. Without adequate options for healthcare and lack of funds to pay for health services, mental health ends up taking the backseat. Not to mention, there's a lot of room for misconception about mental wellness, therapy and who actually needs it.
2. Therapy gets a bad rep in the black community and therapy goers get called “crazy”.
As an African American female and therapy patient, I know first hand that therapy has a negative stigma within the black community. I struggle with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. When I first mentioned to one of my family members that I was in therapy and taking anxiety medication, they laughed and asked if I was crazy. I was a little embarrassed to say the least. It had taken some time for me to come to terms with the fact that I needed help getting my anxiety under control and my mental wellness on track. It was taking over my life. It was messing up relationships, my career and it was putting roadblocks in front of my goals. Needless to say, getting teased about taking “crazy pills” didn't make me feel very good at the time.
When I told my parents, who are in their late 60s, that I was in therapy, they acted as if it wasn't necessary. “Why do you need therapy? Have you tried praying about it? Have you been to church?” These were questions and suggestions that I had heard many times before, but what did that have to do with the price of tea in China? Nothing, girl! I didn't expect them to understand because they weren't in a position to do so. At my age, my parents had already suffered through segregation, Jim Crow laws and hate crimes. I mean, they live in Selma, Alabama for crying out loud! Even if they wanted to seek therapy, they wouldn't have been able to afford it and it wasn't like it was available to them in the first place. So, they used what they had. They depended on their faith and religion to alleviate their mental distress, which leads me to my next point.
3. Religion can restrict belief in seeking mental health resources.
How many times has it seemed like your world was caving in and you were met with the words “just pray about it”? Growing up in the south, Christianity is a big deal. I get it. Thanks to my parents tenacity and drive for raising me in the church, I believe in God, prayer and spirituality, but these things don't substitute a way for me to care for myself mentally. If anything, they feed my spiritual needs, but mental health and spiritual health are not one in the same. I pray. A lot. I pray on my way to work. I pray in traffic. I pray when I'm pissed off. I pray when I'm nervous. I pray at the company potluck. I pray. However, that doesn't mean that I don't need to talk to an actual person about what is going on in my head. That doesn't mean that I don't need someone to help put the pieces of the mental puzzle together. JUST praying doesn't work. You have to pray and then actually work on your mental wellness. Prayer and meditation is only part of the equation when it comes to mental health.
All three of these are reasons that can contribute to the neglect of mental health, but they are not excuses. On my journey to building better mental health for myself, I've been fortunate enough that my work-provided health care covers therapy visits, so I started seeing a therapist and have been able to continue that journey. I know that this isn't always the case for many people. This idea got me interested in seeing what other options are out there for those seeking help.
Today, we have a little thing called the World Wide Web. It’s a floodgate of information and resources! That's how I found Talkspace. Talkspace is a website that offers therapy to clients online for $32 per week. They give you an assessment, match you with a licensed therapist, and you can begin therapy through text and video chat. It's really easy to get started and it's flexible around your schedule, so you can use it whenever you need it. They even have a blog with a ton of good reads and helpful resources. If you're interested in giving Talkspace a try, visit www.talkspace.com to get started.
If you can't afford therapy, that's nothing to be ashamed of. There are other things you can do and there are free therapy resources out there. The National Suicide Prevention Line is a 24 hour toll free crisis hotline that you can call and seek help if you're having thoughts of suicide, harming yourself or others.
In some areas, 211 is available. If it's available in your area, you can dial 211 and be connected with a mental health professional that can help you with a number of issues. They also have a website with more info (www.211.org)
My good sis, Google, is your friend, but you can also try talking to someone you trust. This can include a friend, family member, teacher, pastor or that school counselor we discussed at the beginning of the post. Even LIV Magical Blog is here to be a listening ear if you need to vent. Don't hesitate to shoot over an email!
Lastly, know that you are not alone. Life is hard and can be really shitty sometimes. We all go through something. We face grief, broken hearts, stress, anxiety and depression in one form or another every day. Don't give up on yourself. It's time for us to start taking care of ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically. If nothing else, you'll feel better after getting all of that weight off your mind. Let's start supporting each other by listening, not judging, and offering encouraging words. You never know whose life you can change or save. Remember that practicing good mental health = mental wealth!
Until next time, stay healthy and protect your magic...