You may recognize us as the people who always say funny jokes; who are brutally honest; who are physically strong; or who have stayed strong through all of the struggles life threw their way.
What we do not present about ourselves, however, is the mental and emotional stress that we, too, have to cope with. If we allow our mental illnesses to reveal themselves, we may no longer be viewed as the funny, strong, or talented person anymore. We're scared that others will view us as weak and invaluable because of our mental illness.
Black mental health is a different kind of discussion.
We see black celebrities like Rihanna, Serena Williams, Beyoncé, and Lebron James who exude such a strong and powerful persona.
Rihanna seems to be bothered by nothing; she always snaps back with a snide remark and powerful smirk. When we see all of these images of seemingly emotionless and incredibly powerful and inspirational black celebrities, we feel weak for allowing such an intangible thing as anxiety or depression to cripple us.
When we walk around, we automatically feel that we have to prove ourselves.
We have countless numbers of stereotypes that we actively work hard to shut down (ex: angry black [wo]men, criminals, irresponsible, etc); however, the possibility of not following the “strong and carefree” stereotype is terrifying; so terrifying that we would rather blame ourselves for feeling vulnerable than actually allow ourselves to sometimes just feel vulnerable.
We, as black people, already have to prove that we are capable, so to have another attribute that others may perceive as “inferior” or “weak” sets us at a level so incredibly low; a level where one's self-confidence and social comfort can tumble.
Because of the “strong black person” mentality, little boys are taught to be as strong as an iron man.
Black boys are taught to rise up and defend the women of the family –– black men are never allowed to cry. Black women are taught to have an intense emotionless guard. Black women have to be self-sufficient and never depend on anyone other than themselves to take care of themselves. While this strength and carefreeness are great and vital qualities to possess, it sets us up to hate ourselves when a mental illness –– one that we cannot control because of the chemical imbalances in our mind –– is imposed on us.
We force ourselves to hide our tears, to mask our sadness, to not allow ourselves to stray away from the one-dimensional role of a black person in this country. We all want to be as carefree as Rihanna; we all want to be as strong and inspirational as Lebron James -- but we don’t feel like this when we are sitting under our covers having a panic attack or crying about how sad and hopeless we feel.
As a black person, the idea of being "complex" doesn't seem to apply to us.
We have to either be the “token funny friend,” the “token brutally honest friend,” the “token sassy friend,” the “token strong friend,” the “token activist,” or the “token athlete.”
We have to only partake in things that attribute to our label because people simply do not care about the other aspects of our personas (or at least, that's how we feel). We are treated as if our only purpose in this world is to obey, entertain, and fight; but we are so much more than that.
Being anxious while black is an incredibly overwhelming experience. We feel as though society has no place for us. We feel as if we’re disappointments to our elders who fought for our spot in this country. We feel as if we’re falling behind on the road to defy the odds of systematic and social oppression.
But we never tell ourselves that it’s okay to feel anxious. It’s okay to suffer from depression. If we already have this chemical imbalance influencing us to act against our own interests, we cannot take that side of the illness –– we have to keep fighting for ourselves, not surrendering to our mental illness.
The best way to cope with a mental illness is to get help, but many people of color do not have access to the support that they need.
Some of our parents or family members will probably tell us to “man up”, that we are only suffering from our illness because we have “too much free time”, or to just, “get over it” because it’s “all in our heads”. And not everyone has access to a licensed therapist; when one does have access to a therapist, they may not be able to automatically develop a bond in which the client feels supported. Local and affordable rehab centers may also not provide the needed support, leaving the person stuck with their non-understanding inner circle.
We, as a society, need to shed more light on mental illness within the black community. Almost every black person in America can name at least 5 people in their lives (or even just in their family) who suffer from some degree of mental illness, yet our community continues to act as if this issue doesn't exist. This issue is HUGE, and we need to treat it as such.
Rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Tupac, and Kid Cudi (just to name a few) do a great job in displaying the natural vulnerability of people of color. Songs like “XO Tour Life3” (Lil Uzi Vert), “So Many Tears” (Tupac), and “Illusions” (Kid Cudi) remind the listeners that what they’re feeling is normal, and expose non-mental illness sufferers to the radical idea that black people feel too.
While these rappers work hard to maintain a “thug” persona, they, too, can feel vulnerable and weak sometimes.
Mental Illness does not make you weak, but we have to remember that we can fight this. The black community often stands together to defend ourselves against branches of our government, but we also need to stand together to defend ourselves from our own personal demons. We have to remind each other that although some of us want to assume the position of the “strong activist”, we have to make sure that our inner selves are at peace as well. We saw what happened to Edward Crawford, and we cannot allow this to continue.
Black people are strong.
Historically, we have fought through slavery, segregation, oppression, and racism(and sexism) that still exists today. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be strong all the time. Being black in America is difficult, and being black with a mental illness is even more difficult. Let’s do better in providing a space in this world for black people to allow themselves to feel. Let’s do better in allowing black men to cry. Let’s do better.
Being black with a mental illness raises societal flaws, but it also raises personal flaws. We cannot keep punishing ourselves for not fitting the slot that society has determined for us. We need to give ourselves and each other the permission to feel, and to struggle. We need to show the people around us that we can be strong, funny, and woke, while still possessing the emotional range of a normal human being. This bravery is certainly a process, but the longer we allow society to control our mental health, the more we allow our mental health to consume us.
Black people cry, have panic attacks, get suicidal, and feel weak, too.
It’s okay to feel weak sometimes. Even Rihanna and Lebron James aren’t made of steel -- we all feel. We are all going through something; we should not be ashamed of our battles. Ignoring a mental illness does not magically make it go away -- it just allows it to grow into a larger problem. And in times where you feel alone and isolated because of your mental illness, just remember that the people around you are probably secretly suffering from the same exact thing.