Why It's Time to Tell My Mental Health Story
BY: TARYN DANIELS
It was in my senior year of high school that I realized I was different. While my peers were distracting themselves with after-school activities and dreams of their future plans, I was dealing with panic attacks and rapid mood swings brought on by my delayed college acceptances. I didn’t know what was wrong with me - why I would feel like the universe was collapsing around me or why the slight thought of my future would send me into a fit of rushed breathing. So I did what most millennials did in a crisis, I Googled it. Suddenly, I was face-to-face with words like anxiety, depression and therapy.
I was 17-years-old the first time I acknowledged my mental health. It just wasn’t apart of my rhetoric or my life. Suddenly I’m at AU, still unaware of what was really happening to me or how to handle it. I tried to explain it to my parents, both of whom had no idea how to support me, and often said the wrong things in efforts to guide me towards a solution.
They would laugh off the idea that someone as seemingly “put together” as myself would need therapy, or would tell me I was overreacting when I shared my feelings of loneliness and crippling fear. I couldn’t fault them though. I knew they weren’t purposefully trying to make me feel abnormal, but their questioning looks and occasional urges for me to “suck it up” left me feeling no other way. Meanwhile, my mental health continued to control my freshman and sophomore year, keeping me from speaking up in class and forcing me inside of my dorm room on days when I just couldn’t get out of bed.
In my junior year, I tried therapy for the first time. I had always been afraid that someone I knew would see me walking into the Counseling Center, so I put it off for as long as I could. But after a particularly bad episode, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. It was there in my initial interview, that I realized just how much help I needed, and how I had let my environment dictate my perception of whether or not I deserved to get help. Once I had opened myself up to guidance, I realized how normalized therapy truly was - at least to my non-POC friends. Many of them unashamedly telling me how they had been in and out of therapists’ offices since middle school, and how I had nothing to worry about because therapy was simply “no big deal.”
Mental health stigma is more prevalent than it's ever been. If you are a person of color, it usually isn’t a topic talked about freely in your household. It never was in mine. Even as a second-generation American, the looming African and southern influences in my upbringing eliminated it from acceptable dinner conversation. That’s just the way it was.
Refusing to be stifled any longer, I did research. I turned every class assignment I could into an in-depth analysis of mental health stigmas in the black community and the effects it has on millennials of color. Wiser about the issue and statistics, I made it a point to educate my parents on my anxiety and ways that they could better support me. I even started a blog, for crying out loud. At yet, while my world had grown to accept me, the rest of the world hadn’t.
The black community perceives mental health issues as weakness, often choosing to stay quiet on the topic rather than work towards solutions. When our favorite celebrities open up about their mental health struggles, we move to support them via social media, only to revert back to our old ways when the buzz dies down. Meanwhile, our community continues to suffer in silence.
According to Newsweek, one in five people suffer from a mental health issue, totalling about 42.5 million Americans. And the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health notes that African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population, triggered by external stressors like homelessness, exposure to violence, stigma and a general lack of understanding.
“With hate crimes, racism, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, African Americans should feel comfortable seeking mental health treatment—now more than ever,” comments Elise Banks, Miss Texas International 2015 and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) ambassador. “My hope is that the black community—and anyone resistant to the idea of mental and emotional treatment—will recognize the value of seeking help and soften their hearts to reaching out to an extremely valuable resource.”
I keep having to tell myself that my mental health matters, because no one else wants to. I urge others who confide in me that they have nothing to be ashamed of, that being broken isn’t unattractive or unusual. I champion and support artists of color who stand up and celebrate being 100% comfortable with who you are. I tell my story not for recognition or pity, but to say if nothing else, that my mental health matters. Black mental health matters.
A problem like this can't be fixed overnight, but the first step to solving this problem is admitting there is one in the first place. We need to take the time to start telling our stories, urging others to open up too (as much as they are comfortable, of course). With this platform being what it is, I finally felt it was time to be more honest about my mental health story, and I hope the Blackprint will continue to serve as a place for others to be honest about theirs.