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2019 Soul Train Awards - Show

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As a society, we have been conditioned to have the least empathy for Black women when it comes to mental health. It is widely theorized by professionals working in the mental health space that the state of being a double minority makes Black women particularly susceptible to suffering from anxiety-related conditions. Sadly, research has shown that among Black women suffering from anxiety disorders, only 13 percent seek treatment (Neal-Barnett & Crowther, 2000). While a variety of different factors can be attributed to that low figure, without a doubt, a major prohibitive factor is the negative attitudes displayed toward us when we need help. We’re either judged harshly for our condition or people straight up don’t believe us. Take Summer Walker for example.

The “Playing Games” singer has been an open book regarding her diagnosis with social anxiety disorder. So much so that last week she announced that she would be canceling 20 dates on her Over It tour as a result of her battle with the condition.

“Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to finish this tour because it doesn’t really coexist with my social anxiety and my introverted personality,” Summer explained in a video post. “I hope that people understand and respect that at the end of the day I’m a person, I have feelings, I get tired, I get sad. It’s just a lot. I don’t want to lose myself for someone else. I want to give y’all what I can, so I’m going to keep making music and I’m going to do a few shows, but I can’t finish.”

In the video caption, she went on to promise fans a full refund for canceled dates and expressed that she hoped that they would be understanding of her decision.

“I truly appreciate all the support and love. As you know, I have been very open about my struggle with social anxiety. I want to continue to be healthy and to make music for y’all, so I have decided to cut down some of the dates on the tour,” she wrote. “I hope you all can understand. I’m grateful for every single one of you, and I hope that you understand that wellness/mental health is important. All canceled dates will be refunded asap. Thank you.”

Unfortunately, in this country, we have issues when it comes to believing Black women, so even after Walker went as far as to cancel dates and lose out on potential earnings as a result of said condition, people decided that this was their cue to start dissecting her life and building a case against the singer in an effort to prove that she is being dishonest about having social anxiety. More often than not, their arguments centered around the flawed logic that people with social anxiety are incapable of enjoying themselves in public settings and thus any sign of Summer being playful or having a good time was used as proof that she must be lying. The outright attacks on Walker were revelatory of two sobering truths:

  1. The general public is fairly ignorant concerning matters of mental illness. We have a singular idea of what anxiety should look like and we shun anything that doesn’t fit into that box.
  2. We are insanely vicious towards Black women who demonstrate vulnerability regarding their mental health.

The most disgusting behavior took place following Sunday night’s Soul Train Awards after the 23-year-old struggled through her acceptance speech for Best New Artist. A quick scroll through the singer’s Instagram page that night revealed a mixed bag of problematic and degrading comments ranging from “She playing y’all like a fiddle” to “You so f-cking weird and it’s starting to make me not like you as an artist.” Some even went as far as to question how she was capable of attending an after-party with her friends if she couldn’t make it through a speech. Like I said, complete trash.

Eventually, Summer decided to sound off on her critics in a separate post, essentially blaming their ignorance and vile comments for the reason that so many members of our community with mental disorders — especially children — go undiagnosed and untreated.

“1. Bareface & beautiful”

2. You know the scariest sh-t I’ve been witnessing is that most of the women leaving negative comments like ‘it’s an act,’ ‘I don’t have the right to act like this b/c I’m famous,’ ‘b-tch you slow’ or just flat out making fun of me for being vulnerable. HAVE CHILDREN, these women have children. It makes me feel soo bad cause it’s clear that if the children are developing or struggling with any type of mental disorder such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, it’ll be brushed to the side and will never receive any treatment because it’ll just be ‘an act.’ These parents are probably so ignorant that instead of reading up on symptoms they just whoop the child sad, my sh-t started at 6 so yes kids have it too.”

I’m sure people will continue to justify their disbelief regarding Summer’s disorder. Today, they’ll use a twerk video. Tomorrow they will use her past as an exotic dancer. Next week, it will be something else. But the Summer Walker conspiracy serves as a mirror reflection into a larger societal problem when it comes to Black women and girls and our mental health. The numbers don’t lie. Just last month, we reported that the suicide rate for Black female teens is on the rise. In 2017, they were 70 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white counterparts. We should not have to prove that we’re not okay. Lifestyle choices do not negate the presence of mental illness. If we say that we’re struggling, believe us the first time.

Follow Jazmine on Twitter @jazminedenise and visit her blog, Black Girl Mom.

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