As we bring Mental Health Awareness Month to a close, it’s vital to touch on the importance of access to mental health services, especially within communities that are disproportionately affected with mental health struggles. As someone who has experienced undiagnosed anxiety and ADHD for most of my life, I understand the woes of not being able to access quality mental health care, especially as a second-generation African immigrant.
Half the battle lies in accepting that there is something wrong and that you simply don’t function like others. It’s not because you aren’t capable, it’s not because you aren’t intelligent, it is simply because you are wired differently. But how does one decide when they need help and how to get it? Especially when there isn’t much help available and your troubles are brushed off by those who are supposed to help.
I remember alluding to the fact that it was hard for me to complete basic tasks, it was a major stressor for me and I felt like I couldn’t function like most others. My mother refused to hear it. She thought it was a matter of simply trying harder and worrying less. This made me think that she didn’t understand how I felt and would never be able to grasp how I was struggling. It made me feel abnormal. It wasn’t until I started to engage in discourse with others about these feelings and how they presented in me that I realized I wasn’t the only one struggling around myself and it was very prevalent in my family. My sister refuses to socialize because of how uncomfortable it makes her. My brother’s hands shake uncontrollably because he is constantly nervous. My mother has the most irrational fears and is constantly worrying. These are all the presenting symptoms of anxiety disorder.
After coming to this realization, I asked myself “Why have we never discussed this as a family and why have they never seeked help?” Getting older and hearing the way these issues were talked about put things into perspective for me. It’s not that they didn’t see the issue and it’s not even that they didn’t want help. It was the way people looked and talked about these things, like it made them less human and less capable so it was better to just sweep it under the rug and find ways around it. But, I know this held them back so much in life; I know what they could have accomplished had they not listened to the pastor who advised that it was just the devil that needed to be prayed away or to the teacher who expected every child to be a robot and speak clearly and confidently in front of a class.
Thrive Coaching and Counseling speaks on the shame surrounding mental health and the struggle of those in the Black community with seeking help for these issues. “Many in the black community have been taught and even conditioned to ‘handle their problems’ without outside assistance.” This is exactly what has happened around me and almost to me. After many situations where I’ve come out drained and unable to fully bounce back, I decided to take charge. I couldn’t let my struggle take my destiny. I needed to be whole again. Functioning at 50% capacity was no longer for me so I began to seek. I seeked and I failed continuously but I was committed to healing and I still am until this day. I look forward to dissecting the path I took to get the help I needed. I also hope to provide some insight on what it will take to make strides forward as a community to improve our mental health as a whole and step away from shame towards this issue. I hope that one day, this journey I’ve embarked on will help the healing of my mother, my brother, my sister and my community and I hope every single reader can be a part of it too.