I'm not one who likes to bring up race much, or at all for that matter.
So why bring it up now? I'm sure that's what a lot of you are thinking.
Well I will tell you!
When it comes to the topic of mental illness, race and culture have always stood out to me. From a very young age I noticed the differences amongst racial and cultural groups and how mental illness was discussed and approached.
When watching movies, television shows, the news, and other forms of media there was usually one thing in common. There was not much representation amongst people of color dealing with mental illness.
Now when I say people of color I'm not just talking about African Americans. That seems to be the group everyone jumps to. I'm talking about African Americans, Hispanics and Middle Easterners, and all of us brown-skinned people.
Mental illness can and does affect all of us, so why is there no representation of that for us to see?
We see it on the news all the time. A gruesome act is done by a Caucasian and there goes that mentally ill label. That may be the case, but the dialogue and depiction in media is very flawed and send a certain message.
My heart goes out to each and every individual dealing with a mental illness. This piece is not to downplay anyone's situation, but to bring awareness. Bring awareness to the fact that mental illness is prevalent and needs to be discussed.
I am currently working towards my masters focusing on media studies and health communication. I recently did a research project which focused on mental health in the African-American communities.
I was taken aback by the number of articles and blog post I found. One common theme I came across was the conversation about mental illness in a lot of black households did not exist. The thought of being depressed made you weak and you just didn't talk about it.
I am so happy that was not the case with my family. Who knows where I would be right now.
I found these stories disheartening because mental illness is so prevalent in minority communities. So many people are hurting and struggling with no idea how to handle it. No idea of the abundance of resources there are to help. No idea that there are so many other people just like you dealing with the same thing. No idea that as bad as it sucks and hurts you'll make it.
My hope is that my story and this piece can:
1. Let others know that it is okay. We all have something and we aren't perfect.
2. Let people of color know that you can talk about mental illness. It is real and it exist and needs to be addressed. It does not make you weak. It makes you strong for putting your health first.
3. Let others know that asking for help is absolutely okay. There are people to help you and you are not crazy.
4. Let people know that your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
5. The dialogue in minority communities has to start happening. We shouldn't be scared to talk about it.
So now my story!
I was first diagnosed with general anxiety disorder as a little girl at the age of 8. From that moment my mom took action and began to get me the proper help I needed. I would go and see a psychiatrist and I remember loving her and that hour session. We would play games and talk, I didn't realize I was being "helped."
Since then, therapy has been a huge part of my life. I highly advocate and recommend it for everyone. Between therapy and anti-anxiety meds as needed I found a way to cope.
Once I was in high school I started seeing a different therapist. I saw her for almost 6 years, even after I left for college. I would make appointments on the weekends I came home.
From my experience having a connection with your therapist is crucial for your treatment and growth.
You will always be a little more willing to open up to someone you feel a bond with.
On the flip side, it has taken me years to open up and talk about my experiences. It has been hard for me to be okay with people knowing that I struggle with mental illness. People frequently associate mental illness with crazy, and I like to think I'm a fairly normal individual.
As life went on of course I faced many obstacles, we all do.
On top of my anxiety I eventually ended up being diagnosed with Depression and PTSD. That can be a lot for anyone to handle, but with the right help and support you can overcome it all. Getting through my undergraduate years was a real struggle. I went through some of the hardest times during those years.
I am twenty six now and proud that I can openly talk about this lifelong journey. The thing I was once ashamed of has become the thing to make me the person I am now. I still struggle some days, but decided to not let it stop or hinder me.
The negative stigma that comes with mental illness is one that we all need to work together to end. The more we are open to discuss our issues the sooner we will be able to help others. I'm here to let you know that once you acknowledge your situation you are already on a path to a better you. Don't be ashamed of your situation, know that you will overcome it and have a great inspiring story to tell.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.