“No Shame Day”: How I Relate To The Fight Against Mental Illness And The Stigma In The Black Community

July 2, 2012  |  

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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