All Articles Tagged "mental health"
It goes without saying that communication between both partners is an important part of a successful relationship. Why, then, did I end up hiding my mental illness from my boyfriend? The answer to that question is complicated.
If memory serves me, I met Bill (not his real name) on Yahoo personals. He was a tall, smart Internet entrepreneur who got my sense of humor and whose stories held up to a Google search. We had the same taste in music, and he likened writing HTML code to composing music. I’m a nerd, so basically I was in love.
I didn’t plan on hiding my mental illness from Bill when I started dating him. I thought about how the conversation would take place, what I would say, but I never said anything. There never seemed to be a good time to bring up my major depression diagnosis. Not that there is ever a good time to bring up a potentially debilitating disease. I thought there would be a neat segue, like watching TV together when a Prozac ad aired: “Say, Bill? You know, most of my friends were on Prozac in college. Speaking of psychotropic drugs…” But nothing like that ever happened, so I remained mute about my illness.
I didn’t start actively hiding my mental illness from Bill until I started spending multiple nights a week at his house. By then, we’d been dating for a while, and though we spent a lot of time together, the relationship wasn’t what you would call “serious.” I started to believe that I’d tell him if we ever talked about a future together. So I took my medication at his house, but I never took it when he was in the room, waiting to down my antidepressant until he went to the bathroom. In all those months, he must have noticed me and my pills, but he never asked about anything, so I figured he didn’t suspect anything or he didn’t care. I also never mentioned going to therapy, as I was afraid of mentioning it even in passing. I had no reason to think that Bill would break up with me if he found out about my depression. Still, I remained quiet on the subject. Soon it became easy to forget that I was hiding something from Bill. I had no symptoms, and I felt pretty good, so there was no way to tell that I had a mental illness. Bill and I saw movies, had dinners and continued like a “normal” couple.
A problem arose for me when my mood started to decline about six months into the relationship. I’d lost my job, and it made me feel disproportionately sad and hopeless. Bill was sympathetic to my moods, assuming that they were about my employment situation. I withdrew a little, but not so much that he’d noticed; he was working day and night on a new program and barely came up for air. I was secretly relieved that Bill worked so much since it meant that I didn’t have to worry about him seeing me in by depressed state. But when we went out on a Saturday night, we saw a movie that had a poignant ending. It reduced me to sobs that continued into the credits. Bill said nothing about my emotional outburst, he just handed me a napkin and kept talking about the movie’s casting.
I collected myself by the time we got to Bill’s apartment, where I’d planned to spend the night. When he initiated sex, I thought that I wanted to go along with things. However, once we were well into the act, I started to cry. I felt horrible, and I felt like I had to hide my outburst from Bill, which I did by resting my chin on his shoulder so he couldn’t see my face. I thought he would certainly feel my tears or hear my hitched breathing, but they were probably mistaken for the effects of our lovemaking. At that moment — or shortly thereafter — I realized that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to tell Bill about my mental illness; I didn’t want to share anything emotional with him. If he didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to even inquire when I cried at the movies, how could I entrust him with the most sensitive aspect of my life?
Bill and I broke up a few months later. Though I still liked and respected him, I needed to be with someone emotionally competent enough to handle my outbursts, my feelings, the complicated dance that is my mental illness. Who I decide to tell about my disease isn’t about subterfuge on my part, or about a person’s role in my life. It’s about identifying the right kind of individuals to understand and support me through my daily life, or through a depressive episode.
“I Didn’t Want To Believe I Had Mental Health Issues” Lisa Nicole Carson Opens Up About Her Bipolar Disorder
We all remember Lisa Nicole Carson from our favorite ’90’s movies. Whether it was Jason’s Lyric, Love Jones or Devil In a Blue Dress, the girl showed us her talent time and time again. And then she seemed to disappear from the entertainment scene. Years later, we would learn that Carson was living with a bipolar disorder. But that was the all the information we received.
Now, in a recent interview with Essence Magazine, Carson is opening up about her brand of bipolar, how it affected her career and how she manages it today.
See what she had to say in the excerpts below.
How she learned she was living with bipolar disorder
I was the belle of the ball in the late nineties, with roles on Ally McBeal and ER and in Love Jones. I’ve always been full of energy and would often be twirling around on sets. But my high-spirited moments looked like something else to one of the producers on ER. He had a family history of bipolar disorder and thought I might be exhibiting some of the symptoms. I didn’t know what he was talking about or how it could apply to me, so I just continued with my life. A year later I was in New York City catching up with loved ones when I unexpectedly had a fit in my hotel—yelling, throwing things, crying and raising enough hell that the staff called an ambulance. I ended up being hospitalized for a few weeks, and a psychiatrist gave a diagnosis: bipolar disorder. I was stunned and clueless, and so was my family. I didn’t want to believe I had any mental health issues and went into denial. I was supposed to take medicine, and I didn’t. I’m animated and exuberant, and this made it difficult to determine what was my normal and what was actually odd behavior.
How it affected her career
During my stay in the hospital, I was given medicine to stabilize my moods, and I spoke with a therapist. Upon being discharged, I returned to Los Angeles and went back to work on Ally McBeal feeling more in control. Everybody on the show was wonderful to me, but my contract wasn’t renewed for the final season. Nobody gave me an explanation, but I assumed it had to do with what had happened. I was devastated.
Once my episode became public, I was torn apart in the press, which really hurt.
What she did after “Ally McBeal”
But even if you have “It,” you can falter. Ally McBeal was my last Hollywood gig. After that I moved back to my hometown of New York City and stayed there for more than a decade. During that time I worked with many doctors to get as much control of my life as I could and experimented with various treatments including mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications. I’ve learned to look for the symptoms in myself: getting too euphoric or overstimulated. My bipolar disorder is usually exhibited on the high-energy and manic end. Some people who have the illness are more on the depressive side.
Before my mind and moods came under scrutiny, my body and I had already gone through a journey. I was a tomboy growing up. Then puberty hit, and seemingly overnight I had a 38DD bra size. I constantly wore sweatshirts and was mad at my body. Then I fell in love as I neared my twenties. When I realized my body could turn a man to mush, it became empowering. I was often the curvy one on set, and I felt beautiful no matter my size. I still enjoy the company of men, although dating has been interesting with my mental health condition. When I was hospitalized, I was in a relationship, and he was terrific about it. We stayed together for a while afterward. I’m not dating anyone seriously now and don’t feel pressured to do so, but I hope The One comes along.
The best thing about taking a step back was spending time with my mother. She passed in 2011. What brought me through has been medicine, prayer, music and my dog, Josephine. I see a psychiatrist and a psychologist regularly and now just take anti-anxiety medication. I’ve returned to L.A. to give my career another try. I’m going on auditions and handling rejection better than I did in the past. We recently had an Ally McBeal reunion for the TV Land Awards. It was wonderful getting dressed up and seeing everyone.
I’m tackling the myth that African-American women have to be pillars of strength. We have the right to fall. We have the right not to always have our sh– together. We just have to take our mental health as seriously as we do the physical. Do not be afraid to go to a therapist or a doctor to make sure everything is fine. I am excited for my new chapter. I now am stronger and ready for what’s next, while taking care of my emotional health.
You can read the rest of Carson’s story here.
Pharmaceutical companies publicize the side effects of antidepressants that may affect a patient’s sex life. Most of their information focuses on how a loss of libido from certain antidepressants impacts sex and sexuality. But we all know that sex occurs in the brain and other body parts as much as it does our genitals. So before beginning a regimen it’s important to consider all the sex side effects of these drugs.
Some Antidepressant Side Effects Can Be Good For Your Sex Life
The classes of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are known to cause the greatest loss of libido for users. Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical in the brain that makes us happy, and it can be crucial for people suffering from depression or even for people in a general bad mood. The bad news is that those antidepressant side effects range from lower sex drive to complete loss of interest for many people. For women, this sexual side effect can translate into decreased feelings of arousal and decreased natural lubrication. Men experience low libido as lack of arousal and erectile dysfunction.
The good news, however, is that while SSRIs and SNRIs don’t play nice with our genitals, our brains may still be down for sex. After all, the best antidepressant side effect is boosted mood, and your mood is a part of sex. For both men and women, this can present itself as wanting to give a partner oral stimulation and engaging in other sex acts that require a mental, if not a physical, willingness. While my particular antidepressants have never had an impact on my sex drive — other than making me want to have sex because I was happy — I have been with a man whose drugs prevented him from getting an erection. He also didn’t care for oral sex. Let’s just say that I left that encounter feeling rather unsatisfied.
Antidepressants Left A Bad Taste In My Mouth, Literally
Dry mouth is a known side effect of SSRIs, SNRIs and other newer classes of antidepressants, and dry mouth can cause bad breath. I’ve always drunk a lot of water with my pills, and I walk around with a bottle of water at all times. I chew gum, and I carry mints. I never want to be faced with a potential sexual partner if I know I have dragon breath. My voluminous water intake means that I pretty much have to go to the bathroom all the time, including during sex, which can be something of a buzz kill, but I’ve never had any complaints. The positive side effects of drinking tons of water are clear skin, properly functioning organs, and healthy, lubricated vaginal tissue.
Lack of saliva can have an impact on kissing and other oral activities as well. A completely dry kiss is the opposite of a turn-on, and concerning oral sex, the only word I can think of is “drag,” both figuratively and literally. You may not associate sexual accessories and antidepressants, but several well-known bedroom enhancements, like ice cubes, mints, and flavored lubricants can add excitement to foreplay while stimulating saliva production. Personally, I like a sweet flavored lubricant. My flavor of choice is cinnamon. You can thank me later.
Shakes, Tremors, And Antidepressants
Some antidepressants and other classes of psychotropic drugs cause tremors, tics, and other muscular maladies. It actually sounds worse than it is. Most of these side effects are temporary, so they should disappear within weeks or months of use. But until that happens, a facial tic or hand tremor might make for an awkward interaction with a suitor.
Right now, I take a medication that causes muscle spasms that started in my face and moved to my hands and arms. The good news is that the facial spasm felt bigger than it looked, so I could get away with it. The hand and arm movements are a little bit harder to conceal. I’m single now, but I can just picture caressing a partner–and then my arm starts flailing around. Or I’m performing manual stimulation, and I can’t control my movements, so my partner loses interest. Those thoughts are unnecessarily negative though because there’s always a solution to every problem. I could use the tremors to my advantage and create a signature move when giving a hand job. Or the tremors could go away before any of this becomes an issue. Most likely, I’ll just focus on the positive aspects of my antidepressants and deal with the rest as it comes.
Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.
Now and then we reach a plateau in our work lives, mainly at a particular job. We start to become unhappy and are plagued with feelings of being stuck. We just want more, or in some cases, something entirely different. You feel that there is no room for workplace development and dealing with a menacing supervisor leaves you feeling drained. You find yourself sitting at a desk miserable, praying to get fired so at least you’ll be guaranteed unemployment benefits. But you have a hard time leaving because you’ve created a bond with co-workers and the organization as a whole. Plus, in this job market you’ll be lucky to find anything else that will help you pay bills quick, fast and in a hurry.
Research published in the journal Human Relations found that employees who stayed with their organizations out of obligation or lack of other options were more likely to experience physical health problems such as exhaustion, stress, and burnout.
Sure, we all get the Monday blues and can’t wait for Hump Day, or even better, Happy Hour to roll around at the local bar. However, if you feel that you are employed in an unhealthy workplace, it could be causing great harm to your mental health. When you find yourself dealing with a case of the Monday blues every day, that’s something you shouldn’t ignore.
If you find yourself exhausted even by the simplest of tasks you could be reaching your burnout point. When getting up to go to work becomes more of a task than the actual work, it’s time to re-evaluate where your energy is being spent. Exhaustion doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be mental as well as emotional. Could a long-term project be mentally taxing to the point where you just want to drop everything and be done with it? Do you find yourself on the verge of tears being called into another meeting or after being given another stack of work to complete? You are clearly exhausted.
But there are many other signs of exhaustion and burnout: When you don’t get as enthusiastic as you used to or no longer have the drive to do anything; When it takes longer than usual to get to work in the mornings to the point where you’re praying for traffic on the way there; When you’re angry for no reason and everything seems to get on your last nerve; When a coworker you don’t particularly care for says “Hello!” and it ruins your entire day; When you’re frustrated by every little nuisance, even things that probably shouldn’t be making you very upset; When you begin to slowly isolate yourself from staff because you’re trying to hold on to the last little bit of peace you do have.
If you find yourself battling any or all of this, it could be time for a change of scenery. You may have outgrown your career and may need something a little more challenging or something you can feel more passionate about. Even though the wise thing to do would be to begin exploring other careers, if you have a little bit of fight left in you, there are ways to cope with these feelings to create a better balance in your overall health.
First, when you’re off the clock, be off the clock. Work and all of its stresses should not come home with you. Turn off work emails and don’t answer work calls. Set an out-of-office message for any incoming emails. Once 5 p.m. rolls around and you punch out, the next time you should be in work mode is when you clock in the next day.
Secondly, use your off-the-clock time to indulge in things you’re passionate about. Enroll in a night or weekend cooking course. Try that free gym trial. Spend more time with friends. Do things that make you happy, which is a natural stress reliever. Embracing hobbies is also an excellent way to see what other fields you can explore for job options.
Meditation as a way of relaxation helps to get rid of those work pains as well. If you are lucky to have personal days, take one and make a lazy day out of it. Or, you could take a mall trip, sightsee and get into some fun activities. If you choose not to, and you find yourself at work and under pressure, at least take a 15-minute break and do some steady breathing activities in a quiet place.
Also, if work is piling up, try different organization techniques. Write down all of your tasks on sticky notes and place them somewhere in clear view. Utilize your mobile calendar and set alarms for the different things you have to complete in order of importance. Organizing your tasks helps you feel less overwhelmed.
Most importantly, learn the triggers of what’s causing you to be frequently burned out or what’s draining you mentally. When you know what’s triggering you, there’s a better chance that you will also know how to navigate it and work around the situation.
Breakup depression often feels like the end of the world. Your sweetie tells you goodbye, and you head for the tissues and your copy of Love Jones. But can you imagine going through your worst breakup depression when you’re already struggling with clinical depression? Adding the emotional turmoil of a breakup to an already fragile state of depression causes some deep pits of unhappiness. And while clinical depression and breakup depression manifest in similar ways, you want to be able to distinguish between typical post-breakup sadness and something more. Something serious.
Sad Thoughts Versus a Negative State of Being
Three years ago, the love of my life broke up with me; apparently he was seeing someone else while we were together. I was heartbroken, even though I’d suspected him of cheating but never asked. I was also going through a depressive episode before the breakup, so my existing state of depression increased exponentially. I took to my bed, the one we’d shared so many times, in tears. I watched Seinfeld, our favorite TV show, in tears. I walked around the apartment feeling emotionally devastated and empty, like a worthless dishrag. In truth, I’d been struggling with all of those feelings during my depression; the breakup only intensified my current state.
When you go through a breakup, you can question yourself, how attractive you are, and your behavior. Those aspects of your being are also challenged within a depressive episode. Instead of thinking, “Why didn’t he love me?” my depressed brain upped the ante to, “Nobody will ever love me again!” “I must have done something wrong to make him leave me” became “I always do the wrong thing!” During my breakup depression, my clinical depression made the typical thoughts more negative and, thus, more damaging.
Apathy Versus Lethargy
When my relationship ended, I spent a fair amount of time in front of the TV with a carton of ice cream. I know, I was enacting the stereotypical behavior of a woman who has just been dumped. But ice cream is soothing, and it doesn’t require much energy to eat, so that is the reason that was my go-to comfort food during my depression and after my breakup. But eating isn’t the only depressive symptom I felt. My energy and motivation became abysmal. I didn’t change out of my night clothes. I slept all of the time and didn’t want to leave the house. I’d experienced those symptoms when my clinical depression was most severe, and the breakup restarted my lethargic behaviors.
Physical pain is another symptom I experienced after my breakup. Not just the tightness in my chest accompanying my heartbreak, but also muscle aches, pains, and headaches. Sometimes these pains were caused by staying in bed, but other times they appeared without reason. Body pains are a well-known symptom of clinical depression and, like the emotional symptoms, they were brought about by my breakup.
Choosing My Mood
After the requisite few weeks of crying at love songs and eating ice cream out of the container, I came out of the physical manifestations of my breakup. However, the negative thoughts about the breakup remained, along with the others I grappled with in my long-term depression. To reprogram the negative thoughts into positive ones and lift my mood, I worked to put more rational thoughts in their place. If I worried about never finding love again, I started thinking, “I am loveable. I have people in my life who love me.” Or better yet, “My ex is only one person; there are so many men I’ve never met who could love me.” Putting a more rational spin on my negative thoughts helped reduce their frequency and their impact on my mood.
Shaking off my breakup depression also helped me do other things to abate my clinical depression. Once my mood improved through positive thinking, I started taking better care of myself. Instead of depression junk food I ate fruits and vegetables. I felt good enough to put on clothes instead of wearing my pajamas and bathrobe all day. My tears didn’t disappear, but they lessened since I no longer spent my days laying in bed, caught up in a negative train of thought about my ex-boyfriend. Simply put, I had to choose to think differently about my romantic future in order to start taking steps toward manifesting it.
Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.
Not a single banker, spectator or Wall Street fat cat has gone to prison for their role in causing the housing market crisis. A market crisis that damn near bankrupted the entire globe. But a single Black and possibly mentally ill woman will be spending more than three decades in prison for stealing the bank’s property. Some world we live in…
The woman I’m referring to is Tabitha Gentry. Last Tuesday she was sentenced to a total of 34 years in prison for squatting in a mansion worth $3 million, theft of property within the mansion she was squatting in, and assaulting two police officers. According to previous published reports on her case, the mother of six and self-proclaimed sovereign citizen, who also goes by the name of Abka Re Bey, occupied the 10,000 square foot, five bedroom and seven bath foreclosed property after filing transfer of inheritance paperwork with the Shelby County, Tennessee Register of Deeds in 2013. Although she was not related to the former tenants of the foreclosed home, Gentry insisted that she had “rightful claim” to the Shady Grove mansion because she is a Moorish National. As a Moorish National, she does not believe that she should be subjected to taxes, laws and other U.S. government mandated requirements. However, Shelby County felt differently and took action to evict her. It would take the assistance of a SWAT team to remove her from the property.
Currently, Gentry’s six children are in the custody of the foster care system. As reported back in 2013 by News One, it was Gentry’s 15-year-old daughter who made the call to police for intervention on behalf of her mother. According to News One, family members of Gentry said she had been behaving oddly for quite some time. Reports claimed that “the young woman, who family members say was a high school honor student/basketball player with a promising future, was reportedly introduced to the movement by someone she fell in love with. Soon after, she did an about-face, changing her name and appearance.”
Fourteen of those 34 years she was sentenced to come courtesy of a previous conviction in 2014 for allegedly attempting to run over a police officer. But way before her final sentencing, Gentry would become legendary for her courtroom outbursts, rants, and ejections, which would go viral.
I don’t really want to get into the legitimacy argument surrounding the whole sovereign citizen movement, particularly the Moorish Nation. I would like to avoid the entire comment section being flooded with angry ranters with ‘Bey’ written somewhere in their screen names and images of Noble Drew Ali as their profile pictures. However, her actions do highlight the horrible income inequality and affordable housing crisis, which exists across the state of Tennessee. According to a fact sheet from the Economic Policy Institute and Center on Budget and Policies Priorities, the richest five percent of households in Tennessee have incomes that are 4.9 times bigger than the middle 20 percent and 13.4 times larger than the bottom 20 percent.
Likewise, a recent report by a Vanderbilt University professor and urban planning team shows that Nashville, in particular, is having an affordable housing and gentrification “crisis.” This crisis not only affects the poor, but even households of four earning slightly above the median income of $56,377. And closer to Gentry’s neck of the woods, Memphis is ranked second in a list of metros with the highest income segregation in America. With this sort of economic inequality, you could sort of understand why someone would be willing to commandeer something from the rich in order to have a chance in this world for both themselves and their children.
But in the case of Gentry, I honestly believe that income inequality and the affordable housing crisis is secondary to a more important issue here: the lack of attention to those in need of mental health treatment within our nation’s criminal justice system. According to this article in the Huffington Post by Alana Horowitz, entitled, “Mental Illness Soars in Prison, Jails While Inmates Suffer“:
A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffer from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998. Research suggests that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. The severity of these illnesses vary, but advocates say that one factor remains steady: with proper treatment, many of these incarcerations could have been avoided.
I am not a doctor, but when your own daughter is calling the police on you asking for help, it is safe to say that something isn’t quite right. And I’m afraid that once again, we are locking a sick person away in prison – for a very long and unnecessary time – instead of getting them the necessary mental health treatment they need.
Meanwhile, the sociopaths and egomaniacs who cause the global economic crisis are still running free, and untreated, among us.
May is Mental Health Month and with all the recent suicides in the Black community, Café Mocha has to address the issue of Black men and depression. Why is our community so ashamed to get help? We have a panel of young men willing to share their stories.
Plus Dr. Renee, host of ReachMD, a medical broadcast network for health professionals and our own MadameNoire bi-weekly columnist (Ask Dr. Renee), gives us her tips on getting healthy and answering the most important question: How do you know when it’s time to get help?
Did Y’all See the high school teen who graduate valedictorian with 26 university acceptance offers? Don’t miss the ladies of MadameNoire recap the week’s buzziest news on Did Y’all See on Café Mocha Radio this weekend and on the MN YouTube page.
Visit Café Mocha Radio for air times around the country and on SiriusXM Channel 141. #CMR #CafeMocha
Taking care of your mental health should always be a top priority. And a horrible work situation has the potential to put you in an emotional rut that’s difficult to overcome, especially if you’re predisposed to mental illness. Here are signs that work is affecting your psychological well-being negatively and it’s time to think about whether your job is worth your sanity.
Most fans of Hip Hop are not the least bit shocked by news that Marion Hugh “Suge” Knight Jr., former head honcho at Death Row Records, has killed someone. Some of us might even claim to have seen this coming.
And yet, for years we kind of ignored, if not excused, his erratic and often violent behavior because that’s just Suge. Folks might not want to admit it, but lots of us were entertained by Knight’s debauchery. From the story about the time he hung Vanilla Ice by the ankles off a roof until he signed away rights to “Ice, Ice, Baby,” to his most recent arrest for alleging stealing a camera from a photographer with accomplice Katt Williams, doing crazy things used to be a huge part of his appeal.
And as disgusted as I am by his actions, I do wonder if somehow Hip Hop culture, which at times seems to thrives off of hyper-masculinity and violence, kind of empowered Knight?
No, I don’t think that Hip Hop was the reason why Knight plowed into a bunch of people, killing one. That is all on Knight. But rather, how might our being entertained by Marian Knight’s erratic behavior have shielded him from getting the help that he needed? And I’m talking mentally.
This is not the first time the question of mental health in Hip Hop has been broached here. Last April, Tom Barnes penned a piece for Policy Mic, entitled “What We Should Really Be Saying About the Rapper Who Cut Off His Penis.” In case you hadn’t figured out, the essay is about Wu-Tang affiliated rapper Andre Johnson, aka Chris Bearer, who in a bout of depression fueled by drug abuse, cut his penis off and jumped out of the window.
Barnes argued then that Johnson’s suicide attempt was indicative of a culture, which celebrates mental illness. More specifically he writes:
“There is a romantic notion surrounding artists as tortured geniuses who relieve their anguish through creative expression. But when artists’ suffering shows its fullest extent and ends in tragedy, it’s not ok to be entertained. It’s time to face up to the facts about mental illness in hip-hop and treat it as the problem it really is.”
As noted in a previous piece, I thought Barnes overstated the prevalence of mental illness in Hip Hop alone. I firmly believe that Hip Hop culture is no more or less flippant about mental health than the rest of society. But after Knight’s latest violent outburst, resulting in the loss of a life, I’m really starting to see his point. And I’ll take it one step further: what if it’s the fans, who give excuse to depression, personality disorders and other unchecked mental illnesses; not only because it entertains us, but also because it feeds into narratives that Black boys and men are inherently bad and later, dangerous?
“Another theory is that African Americans don’t also subscribe to treatment. So we could be suffering for years and we won’t get help,” said Ronald Crawford, mental health professional and author of Who’s the Best Rapper? Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas?
Crawford, who also writes for Rap Rehab, said that while he wouldn’t make a diagnosis of Knight without meeting him first, the rap label boss’ behavior, as reported in the media, is consistent with an anti-social personality disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of the disorder include difficulty dealing with people, frequent trouble with the law and having little to no regard for the rights, wishes and feelings of others. Crawford added that anti-social personality disorder is a common diagnosis among people serving time in a correctional facility.
He acknowledges that Knight probably found refuge for his erratic behavior in the glorification of his image, as do other artists including Kanye West and DMX, whose erratic behavior (and in the case of DMX, actual diagnosed mental illness) is often cosigned by fans.
This is only compounded by the already fragile nature of American manhood, which frowns upon the sharing of any emotions and feelings, that could be perceived as weak. Crawford said that anger is considered a secondary emotion usually meant to protect oneself from vulnerability. And the anger we sometimes hear in Hip Hop may very well be the result of people not knowing how to express their true feelings properly. “It’s raw emotion – that is lots of what we hear. People don’t know how to say, you hurt my heart. So they say other hurtful things.”
However , Crawford is not convinced Hip Hop (or by default, the Black community) culture nurtures mental illness. Instead he points to a number of artists who have used their platforms to talk about mental health including Pharoahe Monch, who last year dropped an album about his own bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts.
In fact, Crawford said that he has felt that the raw emotion within Hip Hop has been helpful in getting some of his more difficult patients to open up about what is troubling them. “A lot of people pay attention to the misogyny and the violence in rap, but one of the things they don’t talk about is how rappers have been talking for years about fatherlessness and the impact it has on young men,” he said.
Crawford isn’t the only one who has used Hip Hop in counseling services. A couple of researchers from Cambridge University have created Hip Hop Psych, which also uses some of Hip Hop’s more positive lyrics to raise awareness about mental illness.
He also points out how often the artist’s intended message is lost when we focus only on the presentation. “I think it is a little deeper than some of the lyrics that they use. And we need to take the time to get into what they are saying and not how they are saying it,” he said.
While Crawford thinks we should be aware that an artists’ erratic behavior might be indicative of deeper issues, and that help should always be encouraged, he doesn’t believe that fans should stop patronizing their art. To do so, is like punishing people for being hurt or having mental health problems, he said.
“Is it what the artist is saying, which is upsetting you? Or are we mad at what they are going through? I think instead of shooting the messenger and getting mad at what they are talking about; let’s get mad at the conditions of what they are talking about,” he said.
You can’t always look at a person and tell they’re depressed, just ask Lissa Alicia. The 23-year old writer and PR specialist from Philadelphia said most people she meets and interacts with at the various social functions she attends for business would probably describe her as happy; only her closest friends know that she suffers from the often debilitating disease known as depression.
“I’m really good at not showing my feelings,” Alicia said about the mask she wears in public. “Me and my mom didn’t have the closest relationship. And I was able to try to pretend that I was fine and okay. I don’t like people to know how I feel all the time. I feel like it makes me feel weak. And I really don’t want to be perceived as weak.”
In the beginning stage of her career as a PR rep and journalist, Alicia believes her image is very important to her success. As such, her work often means presenting a face to the world which may not necessarily reflect how she feels on the inside. She calls it “professional happy.” And it’s the societal adherence to this cultural normal, she said, which can make us feel like we have no choice but to suffer in silence, perhaps like Titi Branch, co-founder of Miss Jessie’s hair care products, who took her own life earlier this month. Or even legendary funny man Robin Williams.
“There is lots of pressure to maintain an identity when there is so much other stuff happening inside of you,” Alicia said.
Although not officially diagnosed with clinical depression, Alicia said she first became aware that there was a name and label for what she was feeling after suffering a breakdown in high school. As a teen she had always felt frustrated, hopeless and like an outcast; however it was a terrible breakup with a boyfriend that left Alicia feeling abandoned by even her closest friends. It was a counselor who told her that she was extremely depressed and needed counseling.
Thankfully, she survived that particular incident. And though right now Alicia maintains that she’s emotionally fine, depression comes in horrible waves and when she’s in thick of it, she feels extremely helpless, alone and unimportant. Alicia likened being in a depressive state to an internal war where one side of your mind is telling you that you are worthless, while the other side is telling you that you must fight it. At times suicidal thoughts run rampant and Alicia admitted she has felt as though it would be better if she didn’t exist.
“When it’s really overwhelming. When it’s really too much, I don’t have the best techniques. I usually practice self-harm (scratching the back of her hand) or I withdraw from everyone,” she confessed. “But its not very often that it gets overwhelming. Like I said, it usually comes in cycles but I try to remind myself that it will get better.”
Despite how hard it can get for her, Alicia said she’s not interested in any type of professional therapy. “I’m not into Western medication and I just don’t feel like Western means of fixing things always work.”
Rosalyn Pitts, a child psychologist with a small private practice in Philadelphia and years of experiencing working with patients diagnosed with depression, said resistance to therapy and other supportive services within the Black community is not uncommon. In fact, while 1 in 10 people report clinical depression, it’s hard to pinpoint an actual percentage of those suffering in the Black community because we’re the least likely to report our mental health needs to medical professionals.
Pitts attributed four main reasons for this reluctance: first, there’s the stigma that surrounds mental health illnesses in general. Second is our reliance on the church and religious community, which has many believing they can pray the blues away. Third, the cost of therapy can be expensive if you don’t have insurance or have access to free counseling services. And lastly is the deeply ingrained mistrust of the medical community among African Americans thanks in part to the long history of unethical medical testing on Black people.
This resistance to therapy can also manifest itself particularly among Black women, who are often forced by society to perpetrate facades which tell the world we’re abnormally strong. “The first step and the bravest step is to admit that you can’t handle the situation on your own,” said Pitts. “You really have to take that first step to lift that veil of shame and move forward because I think one of the things that holds us hostage to these feelings is that we don’t know anybody else and we feel like we’re the only one.”
Pitts said there is a role the larger Black community can play in helping to make it easier for sufferers to seek out help, including normalizing the disease (and mental health discussions in general) and talking more openly and honestly about our feelings. “We have to instill in our kids in a young age that it is okay to seek help; that it is not a form of weakness,” she said.
The holiday season can be particularly tough for depression sufferers. Not only does the season become an awful reminder of loneliness for those who aren’t close with friends or family, it also wears on others who are mourning the loss of recently deceased loved ones. Pitts advises sufferers to avoid triggers and minimize stress, even if it means staying clear of certain family members or, if it’s too painful, the holidays altogether, and seek out people who are supportive and full of good energy. She also suggests exercise, which she says can act as a major anti-depressant.
If one’s depression gets to the point where he or she is incapable of maintaining daily activities, Pitts strongly suggests folks seek professional help. Thanks in part to the shifting public attitudes about mental health, Pitts said there are a number of easy ways for someone to access counseling services.
If a has insurance, she advises first checking with the health insurance provider to see what’s covered in network. Primary care providers are also good sources for getting references to reliable counselors who can match your comfort level. Likewise, many churches are realizing the value in supportive services and are now offering counseling in addition to their other ministries. Other traditional supportive service centers also offer free to low-cost counseling for those who are under-and unemployed.
“Our mental health is absolutely key to everything else that goes on in our lives. If we are not mentally healthy, we can’t give to and provide to for others,” Pitts said. “So just like how we want to watch our weight or what we eat or if we get enough sleep. We want to make sure we take the time to focus on our mental health too.”
Although Alicia is resistant to westernized counseling services, she said she does take time out daily to focus on her mental wellness, including engaging in activities and with people who truly make her happy. “Being around people who I am friends with; eating food that I love, things like that [are what get me through]. Most importantly, telling myself that this is not going to last. That this is just a phase.”
And despite her personal objection, she does advise people who are suffering to seek professional help if needed. For her own mental health care, Alicia has also taken up video blogging and most recently produced an entry dedicated to her depression, which she said has brought her closer to strangers and friends alike who, unbeknownst to her, also suffer from depression.
“They tell me that I really helped them and that makes me feel good. I know that people may feel like they are alone in this situation. But there are other people out there who are also experiencing it alone,” she said.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and suicidal, Pitts advises that you don’t wait or suffer in silence any longer. Instead, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline, which is available 24 hours, seven days a week at 1 (800) 273-8255.