Not Just A White Thing

Zshekinah Collier, American University

I recently played Black Card Revoked, a card game created by the company Cards for All People and inspired by Black Twitter. The game tests your knowledge on Black culture ranging from music to church. One of the cards asked “What’s something that black families don't often talk about?” The choices were “sex, death, homosexuality or mental illness.” This question was a “Majority Rules” Card so the correct answer was decided by the players. Everyone I was playing with chose mental illness. The outcome did not shock me but it made me think about the stigma of mental illness in the Black community.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the US will experience a mental health condition in their life. Many people in our community struggle with mental illness, but we often don't acknowledge it or try to pray it away. As a whole the Black community have endured much trauma. However, we are conditioned to get over it, keep it to ourselves and are taught that therapy is only for White people. The American Psychiatric Association reported that 34 percent of the Black community in Ferguson, Missouri met criteria for PTSD and 43 percent were struggling with depression after the death of Michael Brown in 2014.

In the Black community there is a sense of shame and humiliation surrounding the idea of therapy and mental illness. This forces many Black people to suffer in silence, because we take pride in being “strong” and are afraid of being considered weak. Many also fear being judged by family members and friends and hearing “you're just having a bad day,” “stop being dramatic,” “Pray about it” and “you’ll be fine.”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that all Black people are against mental health treatment, because there are barriers that prevent many from seeking treatment, such as trusting health care practitioners, access to adequate health care and knowledge about mental illness.

My point is that if we change the way our community thinks about mental illness—start a positive conversation—then black individuals will feel more comfortable discussing and addressing their problems.Which will lead to receiving the help they need to live a happy and healthy life.

The way our community treats mental illness will not change overnight, but let's stop calling the man or woman on the street “crazy” and start learning more about mental illness. So that we can support and empower our loved ones and friends who are struggling with mental health conditions.