All Articles Tagged "stigma"
If you saw the latest Tyler Perry-directed film Temptation, then you know that it sent some very strong messages about people living with HIV. If you haven’t seen the film, and plan on doing so, you may want to click out now.
At the end of the film, Judith the adulterer, discovers she has HIV and Tyler’s depiction of the plot twist is a bit extreme. The visuals lead us to believe that HIV has taken such a toll on Judith that she has aged three times as fast as her husband . So much so, that Perry decides to employ an entirely different, older, actress to portray her character just a few years later. And in one of the most depressing scenes of the film, older Judith literally limps off down the sidewalk.
If you know anything about HIV, you know that’s not necessarily an accurate representation of the disease. One of the reasons it’s such an epidemic is because people are often able to look and live without visible symptoms, especially if they are taken the proper medication. (See Magic Johnson and probably a couple of people in the neighborhood, you didn’t know about.)
The Positive Women’s Network of the United States of America took issue with Perry’s portrayal of the disease and wrote an open letter expressing their frustrations and petitioned him to do better.
They begin the letter like this:
Dear Mr. Perry,
We write as people living with HIV and their allies to express our deep disappointment with your latest film, Temptation. This disappointment is made all the greater because you have done much that can be applauded. Audiences see your plays and films not simply as entertainment, but as opportunities for inspiration, spiritual healing, and unity.
They continue discussing stigma…
As you may be aware, one of the greatest barriers to addressing the HIV epidemic is the high level of stigma and misinformation attached to this simple virus. Stigma prevents people from getting tested for HIV, from protecting themselves during sex, from accessing care when they test positive, and from disclosing their HIV status to family, friends, and sexual partners. Myths and outdated perceptions about how HIV is transmitted and the implications of an HIV diagnosis have resulted in discriminatory treatment towards, and violence against, people living with HIV.
Unfortunately, Temptation can only serve to perpetuate stigma. Your film depicts people with HIV as untouchable and unlovable, doomed to a lifetime of loneliness, and unable to tell their own stories. It implies that men with HIV are sexually irresponsible and predatory. And the final image — that of a woman who has been infected with HIV due to an extramarital affair walking away alone and unhealthy — sends the message that HIV is a punishment for immoral behavior.
Read the letter in its entirety on the next page.
“No Shame Day”: How I Relate To The Fight Against Mental Illness And The Stigma In The Black Community
Do you know what today is? Aside from it being another Monday and the second day in July (and a hot one in NYC), it’s “No Shame Day,” or #NoShame in Twitter talk. If you’re wondering what “No Shame Day” is about, it’s a campaign launched by The Siwe Project to help black people all over be able to sit down and talk about issues with mental health. It’s an attempt to take the stigma out of going through these things and out of seeking help for mental health problems. On the website of The Siwe Project, there are discussion boards set up to allow people to talk about options for treatment, to share their stories and more.
If you’re also inquiring about what The Siwe Project is, it’s actually named after a young lady named Siwe Monsanto who committed suicide on June 29, 2011. She was only 15 at the time, and after going through the storm with a boyfriend, dealing with health problems, saying she felt pain every day, and altogether, battling depression and anxiety, the young woman jumped from the roof a six-story building near her own home. It was not her first attempt at suicide, but it was her last, and sadly, she did not go immediately, but died in the hospital. A family friend, author Bassey Ikpi founded the non-profit and did so to tell Monsanto’s story, and her own as a woman living with Bipolar II disorder. It is her hope that through sharing stories and having an organization like this, it will foster individual and community healing. As Ikpi says, “The aim is to create community. People with illness forging with those who support or have loved ones with an illness.”
We’ve spoken in the past on Madame Noire about the importance of black folks not being afraid or embarrassed by the concept of acknowledging mental health issues and trying to obtain help for them. And as someone who has gone through some hardcore depression issues and had family deal with mental health problems, I can respect and see the importance of a campaign and day like this.
Coincidentally, my own brother was actually born on June 29, 1983. June 29 is the same day Siwe Monsanto took her life, and as of just a few days ago, my brother would have been 29 on June 29, his golden birthday. However, he was stressed by the birth of his daughter, legal issues (his license was suspended and he was jailed for a few days for driving on it when he didn’t know), and the struggle to find a good job to take care of his new responsibility (and a thirsty girlfriend). Because of all that, my brother had a public nervous breakdown on April 27, 2006 and he was shot and killed by police when they were called to his home after he caused a scene at his apartment complex. This breakdown wasn’t something that up and happened out of the blue it seems, because when friends of his would contact us to send their condolences, they would claim that his demeanor had changed gradually, as he would go from funny and good spirited one day, to calling people heathens and freaking out at work. A few days before he passed, he called my parent’s home highly upset about the fact that was being kept from seeing his newborn daughter, and my father gave him an answer that I believe he now regrets: You’ve got to grow up. The signs were there, I guess we just didn’t see them, or we didn’t see them as anything more than melodramatic stress.
After his death I thought I was all right to go forth with my studies and my life, only to have a breakup, struggles at school and drama with so-called “friends” send me spiraling down a wave of depression during my Freshman year of college. I hadn’t really grieved, and because of that, I threw more pain and baggage onto a bag that hadn’t been unpacked. With a lot of thinking and reading, I decided to seek help from a therapist at my school. While it was nothing like the movies (laying on a Freudian-style couch talking about everything I could remember since childhood), I got to sit and talk to someone who wasn’t family, who wasn’t a pastor, who wouldn’t give me some simple and easy advice. Instead, I spoke with someone who specialized in listening to help me slowly but surely get through my numbing depression.
On this day, I think we should all be supportive of one another and especially those who are battling mental illness so that they can see that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something that many men and women go through. In fact, it’s more of a shame if you or they refuse to do anything about it at all. Get the word out and tell your story: #siwelives, #noshame.
Have you or someone you’ve known battled with mental illness?
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This news is a little early but still good nonetheless. No Shame Day is coming up and though there are a million different ways you can take that, the true meaning is having no shame as black women regarding our mental health issues.
July 2 marks the date of the first international no shame day, created by The Siwe Project, a global non-profit dedicated to promoting mental health awareness throughout the international black community. Bassey Ikpi, a well-known mental health advocate and poet, who has written extensively about her own experience having Bipolar II disorder, is the founder of the Siwe Project. On the campaign’s website she said:
“The aim is to create community. People with illness forging with those who support or have loved ones with an illness. We’re encouraging people to tend to their mental health that day without shame.”
This is a real-life example of someone putting the rubber to the road and not just speaking on the fact that black women need to let go of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, but actually providing a platform and an opportunity for us to do so in a comfortable environment, proving that we truly aren’t ashamed and backing up the supportive nature we’ve been praised for.
All organizers are asking people to do on July 2, which marks the first Monday of National Minority Mental Health Month, is to “publicly share their mental health journeys or speak as allies for loved ones in their lives.” Individuals can also log on to The Siwe Project website and participate in the ongoing conversations about self-care and mental health options.
A safe place for black women to be open about what weighs them down is definitely good news.
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When I was looking at Madame Noire over the weekend, I was shocked to see the news that Erica Kennedy had passed away. I instantly recognized her gorgeous face and was hit with memories of blog posts I’d read of hers, and like most people, instinctively wondered, what happened? I tend to get sort of obsessed with death in a weird way, as though I have to read every possible article I can to soak up whatever last bit of knowledge I can of the deceased, and with Erica I was no different, searching the Internet for cues to a question no one had explicitly answered: what happened.
I began to piece together news from some sources, drawing conclusions about what being “found” dead in her apartment meant, with anecdotal stories like those from her friend, Bassey, who writes openly about her bout with mental illness. When it came to Erica, she wrote in a strikingly open post, “I would come to learn that Erica and I had far more in common tha[n] I would have liked. I’m not here to tell her story because she was fiercely guarded and private,” and later adds that Erica recommended alternative medications for her. The inference that Erica may have succumb to a mental illness of her own and consequently taken her own life was there, but it’s a liberty one has to be careful in taking when speaking on things or people which they do not know.
It’s funny because I’d instantly thought about writing an article along the lines of, you never know what a person is going through, but I stopped because I knew I was being assumptive and no matter what I had pieced together from the blogosphere, I still didn’t really know what Erica had been through or what the circumstances of her death were and I realized I needed to leave that alone. Interestingly, on Essence, the magazines’s executive editor has connected the dots in the same way I had in my mind but didn’t dare relate as fact, writing:
“As of this writing, no official cause of death had been released, although the word on social media seemed to link it to her depression. I don’t know if Erica sought help, but if the buzz is confirmed, I do know this: We as Black women have to stop holding it in and start letting it out. Tell somebody. Find somebody to listen. Don’t be afraid. We have to stop pretending everything is okay, like Superwomen on steroids, and start admitting that we can get vulnerable. And sad. And low. And that’s okay.”
The article uses an understandable news hook to speak to a much larger issue black women are dealing with, but as remarks in the comment section show, the message has been lost on the assumptive nature of the prose. Meanwhile on XO Jane, commenters are responding to Bassey’s article, almost demanding that those closest to Erica expose the mental illness the court of public opinion now believes she has, insinuating that keeping her battle private only adds to the stigma of mental illness in our community. While I do agree with that sentiment in a lot of ways, Erica’s battle with depression or whatever other condition she may have had is no one else’s business to out.
When you think about Erica being a writer and the amount of personal information she’d disclosed in her 42 years on this earth, I think it’s safe to say that if she wanted the world to know about her struggles, she would have shared it with us, much like her feminist ideals. I think it’s also a bit naive on people’s parts to not realize that a lot of the stigma surrounding depression and suicide comes from observers who have no idea what it’s like to live that life. Many see suicide as a selfish decision, or even a weak one, and depression as a dramatic mood swing when it is so much more. While there could be a lesson in her life and death if she were known to suffer from any of these conditions, she had and still does not have any responsibility to be that symbol, no more than a homosexual has to come out of the closet and openly declare his sexual orientation. I’m also sure that if it were to be made known that either of these conditions led to Erica’s passing, her reputation and her legacy would change unnecessarily. Like a celebrity has no obligation to share their personal lives with the public, the loved ones of those who have passed on owe us no explanation just to satisfy our curious minds.
Amber Euros wrote an excellent response on the XO Jane posting, encompassing all that is wrong with the way in which we approach unexpected an unexplained deaths. She said:
“I am sharing what I have recently begun sharing with my friends which is: Stop asking me what happened to her. She died. I’m sad. End of story. Can you not understand my sadness without knowing why she is no longer here? Does it make it less sad to know how or why? Is my sadness only justified if her death fits your mental makeshift maslow’s hierarchy of sadness?
WHY is her DEATH not sufficient enough reason to be sad? WHY is her impact on me and the others lives she touch not sufficient enough reason for someone to share their story on how she allowed them to be more open about their own truths?
What age do we live in that the DEATH of a friend does not suffice as reason enough to feel an outpouring of emotions, be they sadness, anger, confusion or otherwise?”
The age we live in is one where we think we are entitled to know everything about everyone (thank you Internet and Social Media) and it’s high time we changed that and started to honor the words we say about someone when they have died: rest in peace.
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Approximately 1 in 110 children in the United States is autistic; and while the prevalence of the condition is virtually the same among blacks and whites, a new study found that black children typically aren’t diagnosed until a full year-and-a-half later than white children.
Researchers are dredging up the usual explanations for the delay: lack of access to quality and affordable health care. But according to Martell Teasley, an associate professor in the College of Social Work at Florida State University in Tallahassee, “social stigma attached to mental health issues within the black community” may also play a role because it leads to “less discussion about autism among African Americans or between African Americans and health care providers.” Lack of trust in the health care system may also cause parents to resist seeking treatment, even when signs of the disorder are evident.
“African-Americans are well versed in going to a doctor who might have biases or discriminatory practices, so they may not readily accept what a doctor says.”
Living in urban communities doesn’t help either, as mental health facilities in such areas have steadily been on the decline for the past 30 years. What’s most important is education encouraging African American parents to seek proper resources if their child shows signs of the spectrum disorder—and to do so as early as possible in order to have the greatest impact on their child’s health because as Teasley points out, “later intervention will result in a poorer developmental outcome that can have a lasting impact on the child’s and family’s quality of life.”
What do you think is the biggest reason for delayed diagnoses among African American children?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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I’ve always been sensitive to news of someone’s death, whether I knew them personally or just happened to come across their story in the news. This is particularly true when it comes to suicide. Immediately I think of what it must have taken to get the person to the point of not just having suicidal thoughts but to actually pull the trigger, or take the pills, or make the cut.
But while I sit in sympathy and ponder the sadness they must have been feeling and the emotions those closest to them must be experiencing, I’ve realized there are others who have drastically different reactions to news of suicides. While I ponder explanations like depression and isolation, they think selfishness and cowardice.
It’s interesting since news of Don Cornelius’s apparent suicide yesterday, those words haven’t been brought up. Perhaps Don’s positive influence is so great that it overshadows his controversial passing or perhaps suspicions of dementia or Alzheimer’s give him a pass from simply being a weak person who couldn’t handle the cards he was dealt, because that’s often the attitude that is projected when someone takes his own life. It always baffles me that if even in death you can’t understand someone’s suffering, how are you surprised that those same people didn’t seek help when they were living?
As far as we’ve gotten away from Catholic teachings that someone who commits suicide is automatically damned to hell, it’s clear that isn’t what makes suicide such a taboo in society, so what is? This issue is far from being one that’s solely black but it bears a deeper look in a community that is typically resistant to accept or discuss mental health. If we can’t accept or understand someone’s choice to take their own life then how can we be accepting or understanding of the circumstances that lead them to that decision while they’re still living? People tend to question why a person didn’t just “say something” but I tend to believe the person has been saying something all along—either vocally or indirectly through their moods or behaviors—and those signs were either ignored, unrecognized, or brushed off, as was the case with Ashley Duncan. That’s not something we can afford to do any longer.
Black women are more likely to attempt suicide but black males are much more likely to complete it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death among African American males between the ages 15 and 24, and in 2007, of the 1,958 African Americans who committed suicide, 1,606 or 82 percent were males, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
I understand family and friends who are left behind feel as though a person’s choice to commit suicide was selfish but it’s also selfish to only think about the pain they’re feeling in that moment and not the pain that must have driven their loved one to take that step. It’s also unfair to assume what another person should be capable of handling. What one person may think they can take, another simply may not, and no one can say who’s right or wrong. I think it’s safe to say the perceptions of anyone dealing with thoughts of suicide may not be fully in line with reality as outsiders see it. While people may be around and willing to help, those battling depression tend to not see things that way or to feel as though they are a burden and may in fact be doing their loved ones a favor by taking their own lives. Our perceptions create our realities and once someone is gone there’s no way of knowing what they were truly thinking at the time.
Rather than attempting to admonish any guilt that may be felt by disregarding a suicide victim’s circumstances, it would be far more beneficial to think about what can be done to prevent more deaths in the future. Responsibility for a victim’s death cannot be placed on the shoulders of everyone around them but we should be accountable for the attitudes we have toward depression and other mental health issues so that we can eliminate those stigmas and not worry about people taking that next fatal step in the future.
What are your thoughts on suicide? Do you tend to see it as a selfish or cowardly choice? Do you think the black community is more likely to view suicide as taboo?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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(CNN) – In a makeshift bedroom in her parents’ house, Erinn Height applies for another job. She’s filled out 200 applications since being laid off from her senior manager position at Avis Budget Group in 2008. To avoid becoming homeless, the independent 36-year-old mother mustered the courage to do the unthinkable: move back to her family’s home in Indiana.