May is Mental Health Awareness month. Unfortunately, not enough effort is made to remove the stigma surrounding it.
Last week, the news broke that world-renowned fashion designer Kate Spade and CNN host Anthony Bourdain both committed suicide, just three days apart from one another. The news was unexpected, and sparked a much needed conversation. Mental health is the very large, spotted elephant in society. We see it, we know it, and we may even be affected by it, ourselves. Yet, it’s a topic that is vastly ignored, particularly in Black communities.
In an interview with People Magazine, Mariah Carey revealed that she had bipolar II disorder. Although Carey had been diagnosed in 2001, she decided against medication and other treatment, admitting, “I didn’t want to believe it.” Until recently, Mariah Carey like countless others, suffered in silence.
“I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me,” she says. “It was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn’t do that anymore. I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love — writing songs and making music.”
The ugly truth is that 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some kind of mental illness – 1 in 5. Black people are equally susceptible to mental illnesses as our White counterparts.
As a community, a conversation surrounding mental health should not only be held when a notable person loses “the battle with their demons”, or during a designated month. It is important to centralize the topic of mental health, and accept that it affects a number of people in each of our lives.
Yes, it’s unnerving to face the spotted elephant in the room. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to admit that mental health is prevalent in our communities. This discomfort is even more of a reason that every month should be centered around mental health awareness. It is not something that will just go away, it is not a taboo.
Black people have spent lifetimes avoiding the harsh reality of mental health, so it’s unrealistic to expect a complete abandonment of cultural norms and practices overnight. However, simply informing friends and family that it’s okay to not be okay, and they can count on you, is a great way to encourage a safe space for your loved ones who may be suffering in silence.
It’s no secret that African-Americans have made great strides and lead in many positive areas, but the reality is, that we are also ranking number one in unemployment, incarceration, and in other mental-health related struggles. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — Office of Minority Services, reports that “African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Whites. Yet, African Americans are less likely to seek mental help than their White counterparts.”
Star of Queen Sugar, Kofi Siriboe, has partnered with HuffPost to release “WTF is Mental Health” to tackle the stigma of mental health among African Americans. This mini documentary highlights the struggles seven people with mental health are facing.
“Making ‘WTF Is Mental Health?’ has been a part of a healing process for me, one I’m still exploring,” Siriboe explained. “It’s the companion piece to ‘Jump,’ a short film I made after a mentor and big brother figure died by suicide, just before I got the call that I’d been cast in ‘Queen Sugar.’ I started working on this beautiful, emotional show and felt how liberating it was to channel my fears into art. As I began to mold ‘Jump,’ I realized the true conversation I was craving centered on young black people who are figuring out this mental health thing, too.”
In an attempt to keep the conversation going, Siriboe is calling young people to submit their own videos detailing their experiences with mental health, and what they understand it to be.
“If we don’t admit what’s going on to ourselves, we’re gonna keep hurting in silence, which is killing us twice as much as our Caucasian counterparts. No one is gonna talk about it because it’s taboo”, he added. “That’s what I wanna end.”
Watch “WTF is Mental Health” below.
If you, or someone you may know is suffering from depression and/or suicidial thoughts, you do not have to suffer in silence. You are not alone.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline:1-800-273-8255