The Silent Killer That Is Mental Illness: Black People Need Therapy Too

April 8, 2014  |  

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As black people, we are often praised for our strength. We’re tough. After all, we’re the race that endured 400 years of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and still deal with modern-day racism disguised as something else. Still, statistically blacks see substantially lower rates in jobs and higher rates in poverty than most other races, but still we’re told to just hold on and be strong.

This strength, whether loud or quiet, is one of the reasons I take pride in being a black woman; but just like most things, it’s sometimes a gift and a curse.

This strength is one of the reasons why I’ve suffered from bouts of  anxiety and never mentioned it to anyone, often telling myself I’m tough and strong women don’t cry or break. And I’ve even seen other people experience issues that could only be classified as mental illness go without help. Yes, this ‘strength’ that most black people wear as a badge of honor is sometimes the same thing that kills us.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Services, blacks are 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than whites. Still, most of us don’t seek help. We can do it. We can get through it. We’re fighters. We’ll pray on it. These are only some of the ways we try to convince ourselves. And for a while it may work, but just like any issue that goes unresolved, things usually get worse.

While some consider suicide an act least associated with our community, I disagree. We also kill ourselves, and many times, not just in the literal sense. High obesity rates, several physical illnesses, increasing poverty and high incarceration rates are telling of the times.  One in every three black males is expected to go to jail at least once in his life, and if that’s not enough, studies show that black teenagers are twice as likely as whites to get pregnant at a young age. While we don’t necessarily end our lives physically, some stressed decisions slowly kill our dreams, our hopes, and our happiness.

So what’s the first step? As cliché as it sounds, being honest with yourself is most important. Admit that you’re going through a tough time, that you have issues stemming from your past, or that you’re tired of having to be so strong. Then make up in your mind that you will be committed to living a better life than your ancestors, because you have more resources than they did to speak out, speak up and seek help.

We don’t have to hurt alone or even be ashamed of our pain. As strong as we are taught to be, even the strongest people can crack; and when we do, we should seek help. Whether it’s ‘daddy issues’, a poverty-stricken childhood, sexual abuse that was swept under the rug, or low self esteem, black people need help too, and there’s no shame ins seeking out help professionally for our issues. 

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