Mental illness is something hardly talked about in our country. Though mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are extremely common and are extremely pressing issues, for some reason, discussion of them always seems to get swept under the rug. Mental illness plays a role in as high as 90 percent of suicides amongst some professionals, though this statistic is often times debated, there is no denying that mental health directly correlates to mortality rates. These studies are extremely concerning, considering the increasing suicide rates in our nation. Mental health should be something we are always talking about — we shouldn’t have to wait until the latest suicide, whether it be someone you know or a celebrity.
As little as mental health is talked about in America, it’s discussed even less among people of color. Having a mental illness is stigmatized in communities of color, as something that makes you weak, something you should be ashamed of and should not talk about. Even though the reality of the world is that a lot of times, people of color are more likely to have mental health issues, probably because the discrimination and oppression they face on a daily basis have adverse effects on their mentality. For example, African American adults are 20 percent more likely to experience mental health issues than the rest of the population.
One reason why mental illnesses are so prevalent in communities of color is that self-care, something that can really help to prevent mental issues, is seen as a luxury and not a necessity. In one of my classes during the school year that was made up solely of students of color, we discussed the stigmas associated with self-care options such as therapy or yoga. Many students recounted how in their communities, things like those were described as “things for white people,” or luxuries versus necessities to help your mental health. We also discussed how in all of our respective communities, things like therapy were seen as taboo and something not to be discussed and to be swept under the rug, that it was embarrassing to have an issue requiring professional help and if you did you just should not talk about it.
The lack of discussion about mental health leads to multiple issues, as it seriously invalidates the experiences of those who do have mental health problems. This is because it makes them feel as if there’s something seriously wrong with them or that they’re inferior to the rest of their community. In reality, multiple people in their community are struggling with the same issues but are uncomfortable with bringing it up because of the stigma. This adds to the stigma because no one talks about it, creating a cycle.
I know one of the subconscious reasons I have felt othered as a Nigerian woman and a Black woman is due to the fact that I have depression and anxiety. Having a mental illness is never discussed in the circles and communities I’m in, both of Black people, and of Nigerian people. People just always talked about how when you face struggles and have problems, you were supposed to toughen up and work through it, making it seem so simple. Like all of my problems could be solved with easy fixes and if I was having issues, I must be doing something wrong.
I know from talking to my parents and cousins that mental illnesses “aren’t really a thing” in Nigeria. There, nobody talks about them and they’re never diagnosed. I can only imagine what it would be like to live with a mental illness there. Someone who has depression would just be considered prone to periods of sad moods and someone who has anxiety would just be considered a big worrier. Your illness would stop being just an illness and would begin to define who you are.
This is something that really concerns me because people all over the world have mental illnesses and simply avoiding the conversation does not make them go away. In fact, it makes them get worse, as it prevents people from seeking and receiving the treatment they need. Additionally, it prevents people from prioritizing their mental health, even though it’s just as important as one’s physical health.
It’s really frightening to know how little people of color and people, in general, discuss mental health, even though it’s 2018 and the negative effects of this lack of discussion are multiplying. I’m just hoping it won’t take too many more wake up calls for people to realize we need to do something and fix this.