The time for honest conversation about the innermost parts of ourselves has long since passed. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. There are countless think pieces, blog posts, articles and memes framing and reframing what it means and could mean to be Black in America. Innumerable excerpts are snatched from essays. Book chapters and research study conclusions are fragmented and cited to substantiate the creator’s theories and opinions.
To be Black in America is all too often to be silent about the things we should be loud about – even as we use our voices to selectively express dissatisfaction. The discomfort that is a derivative of our material conditions deserves a place at the table. Disturbances that often plague folks and don’t easily dissipate shouldn’t be kept from the light of processing and possible solution.
The effects of the causes we fight against are more than just physical. In many ways, the mental and emotional effects outweigh others. The social implications of greed, fear mongering and the hindering of individualism have yielded outcomes that are less than desirable. If an idea like being FREE seems so far off that our own children don’t even consider it, we as a community may be missing the mark. With disorders such as anxiety and depression on the rise, this should make you wonder; what’s causing this? What isn’t happening to stop it? What is happening that keeps the numbers growing?
The TRAP – the cycle of hostile, carceral schools, hyper- policing, and prisons that impoverishes and chains our communities while blocking all revolutionary potential from our people, does not only show up in schools and urban communities. Within the health professions there are arms of the TRAP reaching through and doing damage as well. The authorities on Mental Health and Psychological studies have seemingly waged war. The industry over the years has grown into an insurance driven and data based entity that heavily relies on quantifiable outcomes and psychopharmacology. People are actively being pushed into a system that labels (and often times mislabels), prescribes and pushes them back into society. Children are of no exception to this.
Making up 13% of the U.S. population, roughly 42 million people and counting, African Americans are of course the minority on most reports. Why is it then, that African Americans are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than their Caucasian counterparts? More disturbing still, why are Black teenagers more likely (8.3%) to attempt suicide than white teens (6.3%)?
Ideas surrounding issues of Mental Health with regards to Black/African American communities often are rooted in the fear and mistrust incited by negative encounters with those who are supposed to help. The real phenomenon of not being listened to and validated is often experienced in what are supposed to be places of rest and refuge. The challenge to alleviate these fears and to restore trust is no easy one. It is also not one where the solution resides in the current systems in power. This means real and tangible change must be realized if we are to truly be FREE.
This has to start with us – the young, the strong, the able – both the willing and unwilling. The pillars that uphold the status quo must shake with the resonating voices of the up-and-coming in opposition of the harm that has been and continues to be inflicted. The search for diverse, competent and caring torch holders at some point will have to cease being just an idea and become real. Some of them may very well be among us. That also requires us all to be radically honest and intentional with not just our conversations, but also with our listening with one another.
If true healing is to be achieved, I feel that we will have to learn to lean on each other and to be easy with one another as we lean. We will have to embrace the difficulty in being transparent, for our own sake and for the sake of those that we hold near and dear. We will need to harness both sympathy, for the things with which we cannot relate, and empathy, for the things we can. We will need to call on our professionals, those who are not only well equipped but who know us best to step up and do what they are here to do. We are going to need to increase awareness, get people thinking and most of all – get people talking.
The world shuns those who are different. Folks whose perspective is skewed in relation to the standard are not often received well. Who society has come to call the disordered are often ostracized and removed when and where applicable. Where we’ve been seems so foreign in comparison to what we have come to. Are those who struggle unworthy? Are we not all beneath the same sun, bestowed with gifts and granted the ability to at the very least pursue a lasting happiness? Why do we resort to shifting blame and passing off responsibility when it is up to us all to see the light in one another? When will we release the need to always be okay and begin to embrace the full experience of just being? When will we resolve to seek freedom of our minds, the freedom to not be okay – and to say so – without reservation?
Love always has been and always will be the answer. For those who suffer, deal with, push through, battle, beat down, stifle or embrace what society calls an illness of the mind – know that you are worthy. Know that you are not alone. Know that you have people fighting for you, too. Know that you are here for a reason and you are needed.
Stephen Roberts of the BrowarDD SquaDD