By DeAngelo Mack, Director of Equity Justice at Public Health Advocates
As the theme for this year’s Black History Month is “Black Health and Wellness,” I think it’s crucial that we discuss mental health in the Black/African American community and the ways we can create an open, safe space for conversations about mental health.
We cannot talk about mental health within the Black/African American community without acknowledging that the community’s overall health and wellbeing is heavily impacted by racism and discrimination. From young children to older adults, no one is immune to the toll of ongoing violence against community members and systemic policies that keep our community from thriving.
Unfortunately, many community members are still afraid to talk about their mental health or seek help and treatment. This fear is largely fueled by misconceptions around mental health, such as the belief that mental illness is a sign of weakness and something they should be able to overcome on their own, or belief that treatment will only consist of pills/medication which come with uncertain side effects. Furthermore, many fear judgement from community members and peers, thinking that they will be treated differently if they are open about their mental health.
To counter these concerns, we have to promote mental health as part of our overall physical health and wellness and acknowledge that supporting personal mental health and wellbeing will look different for everyone. A combination of activism, prayer or meditation, exercise, online therapy or counseling, community support or candid conversations with friends and loved ones can make all the difference in a person’s mental health.
The African American/Black community is resilient and strong – and that often means that we are good at hiding our pain. For instance, many of us will say we are stressed or tired, when in reality, we are experiencing mental health symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored.
But mental health conditions are no one’s fault, and we can’t let ourselves, our friends and neighbors hurt alone in silence and fear. We have to support each other just as we would a neighbor who lives with a physical illness or injury, and that means embracing those who are experiencing depression, anxiety or trauma, and helping them to find treatment routine that serves them.
Know that opening up about our mental health is a strength, not a weakness. It is hard to be vulnerable when we have so few spaces that feel safe – especially when it comes to the medical field – but that’s why we as a community have to create and maintain safe spaces for each other to offer support and increase education about mental wellness.
This Black History Month, I encourage our local African American/Black community to acknowledge the strength and resilience that you carry with you – and remind yourself that supporting mental health, just as much as physical health, is a way of honoring yourself and the legacy you represent.
Please take time to explore the StopStigmaSacramento.org website – including the African American/Black community page here, resources for help and support here and the conversation starters here that can help you to reach out to someone you know who may be struggling with their mental health right now. There is also strength and hope to be found in reading the stories from the Stop Stigma Speakers Bureau members, who are opening up about their experience with mental illness and mental health conditions. Currently, there are few members of the African American/Black community who are willing to share their lived experience with mental health conditions, especially among youth and older adults, and I encourage others to step forward to share their story in order to provide hope for others and let them know they are not alone.