By Lereen Francois
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO): “Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” The same way we all have physical health, we all have mental health that requires our care, but unfortunately mental health is still a taboo topic in the Black community.
In recent years, we’ve seen a shift in attitudes towards mental health. If we take a look around, we see the widespread of awareness, and an increase in counselling and therapy. The community seems to be on board, with recent shifts in our cultural attitudes, towards mental health increasing. However, there’s still so much work to be done. We need to prioritize spaces for mental health education, representation, and recovery. For far too long, we have been loyal to a culture of shame and silence in regards to our mental health. If we want the shift to take root fully, we must make it our responsibility to create safe spaces within our households and community to disrupt the patterns. The change can occur through educating ourselves about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, learning about what contributes to poor mental health, knowing where to access resources, getting familiar about the facts and myths, and more importantly, positively influence the mental health narrative for the next generation.
The impact of this change demands our collective visibility and voices. According to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: “One in five Canadians experience mental illness in any given year.” Because it is not customary to talk about mental health in Black families, that’s one in every five black folks whose experiences goes unaccounted. One in five who are instructed to pray it away… one in five whose silence the culture can no longer afford. When we seek help, share our stories, or disrupt the stigma around us, our act of bravery can save the lives of people we know and those of whom we may never meet.
In a recent study conducted by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for Black males ages 15-24, and the 16th leading cause of death in Black folks of all ages. The statistics of Black LGBTQ Youth are significantly higher. Many have fallen victim to the idea that mental health is not a “Black issue.” But the suicide statistics beg to differ.
Besides, so many Black women are walking around depressed and stressed beyond capacity, yet they haven’t permitted themselves to speak up about their experiences. I too, was amongst the one in five who once did the same. I watched as I lost myself to depression and anxiety, as I wrestled with the thoughts of whether or not my faith or my “strength” had betrayed me.
Fortunately for me, in 2011 with the support of persistent friends and family, I checked myself into a mental health hospital. I was immediately placed on anxiety meds and anti-depressants. Within months of my treatment, I started feeling like myself again. Fast-forward eight years later, counselling and therapy have provided me with tools and resources to cope through my experiences. I am no longer on medication, and thankfully I’m on a healthier path in my life where I’m able to not only survive, but gratefully thrive.
If you are currently struggling to cope with the normal stresses of life, know that you are not alone. There are so many folks out there who understand everything that you are going through; do not hesitate to reach out for support. If you are someone who knows someone who is currently struggling, be the change. Reach out. Your influence is more powerful than you know.
*Lereen Francois is a speaker, community educator and the founder of Black Mental Health Visibility, a youth-led initiative using mindful approach for mental education, empowerment, and healing.
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Dignity in Mental Health; Submitted by Sarah Cole, Health Promotion Facilitator, Alberta Health Services. (2015, October 13). Fox Creek Times, p. A.3.
Tripathi, N. (2018). Positive Mental Health (PMH) for life in abundance: A Study on John 10:10. Indian Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(1), 184.