This article was written by and from the perspective of licensed social worker, speaker and writer Minaa B.
I remember the barren look in my mother’s eyes when I told her I was diagnosed with depression and was also taking medication to treat it. It was as if the words that had left my lips were too weighty for her to carry. Full of too much pain for her to even try to digest because it might make her sick to her stomach and upset the taste of truth.
This is my story, but it’s also the story of many black women. Women with mahogany skin are constantly having to hide their pain because they are told that it’s too much, too serious, too exaggerated. I had always been told and taught that my pain could go away if I worked a little harder, slept a little later, ate a little more, or complained a little less. Being depressed while wrapped in black skin is difficult not only for my kin, but for the society that I live in.
Someone asked me once if I think progress is being made to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in our society. I didn’t know how to answer. One part of me believes the answer is yes, we are making progress. Yes, because years ago, the word depression seemed a little dirty. Like it was a foreign language that only the hurt and broken understood. But now people are having open conversations about depression and anxiety. Celebrities are openly talking about going to rehab, not just for drugs, but for emotional stability. Wellness blogs are flooding the market, giving space for folks to have conversations about trauma, eating disorders, even suicide, and also putting on events for people to have a safe space to openly receive and give advice on mental health and wellness. I think all of this is beautiful. I think all of this is necessary. But I also think there’s something missing.
Which is why the other part of me felt the answer is no. No, because I have come to realize that whenever I’m in spaces talking about my depression, my past with cutting, my mental health, they’re white spaces. I am always the only black girl on the panel. I am always the only black guest speaker. I am always locking eyes with the one or two black girls in the audience full of white women, letting them know that they are seen and heard.
I also believe real progress toward erasing mental health stigma requires more than a discussion; it’s about resources and access. When we talk about mental health and we talk about eating balanced meals, sustaining an exercise regimen, and seeking out holistic doctors and therapists, we also have to take into account classism and how there is a whole population of people who still lack access to grocery stores that provide fresh and affordable foods.
The neighborhood in which I currently live is flooded with delis, liquor stores, and fast food restaurants. To get to the nearest Trader Joe’s, one needs a vehicle. To have access to quality doctors, one needs quality insurance. What this shows me is that mental health is moving in a direction that serves a certain group of people while so many others are still waiting to have a seat at the table. Too often, black and brown people still have to prove themselves good enough to speak on panels, to educate in classrooms, and, most importantly, to be seen as people who are also affected by mental health and illness rather than as thugs and black girls with bad attitudes.
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