Yes, I’m coming out of hiding for a minute
And I’m doing so because I want to talk about an issue that is very important to me. Today, we commemorate No Shame Day, a day in which we work to eradicate the stigma of mental illness in the black community. This issue is important to me because I am a victor over clinical depression.
I was first diagnosed when I was a junior in college after going to the student health center for what I thought was anemia. I had been tired, listless, and had a general malaise that made even showering difficult. When the doctor told me my iron levels were fine, I was confused. She then asked me a series of questions and suggested I may be suffering from depression, after which she gave me a referral. To be honest with you I had no idea that depression was even a real disease. I thought it was just a funk people went through from time-to-time. I didn’t know it had a physiological cause ( just as colds are caused by a virus, depression is caused by an imbalance of serotonin in the brain). I didn’t know it affected every area of your life. I didn’t know it was physically crippling. Like most people, I simply didn’t know enough about it.
When I told people — close family and friends — the reactions ranged from support to condescension to outright ignorance. Well-meaning relatives would tell me it was just a demon I needed to pray away. Others were adamant against me taking any medication because it might change who I was. In their eyes, it was me inherently admitting that I was “crazy.” Eventually, I stopped telling people.
I started this blog to collect my thoughts and chronicle my efforts to get and stay on top of my game and be the best wife, mother, and person I can be. Mental illness, however, makes that impossible. I can thankfully say that I haven’t had a depressive episode for a very long time, but my initial struggle with the disease taught me so much about myself and others. In the African-American community, the common misconception is that black people don’t get depressed because we don’t have the “luxury.” Our ancestors did much more with much less and never needed a therapist. All we needed were Jesus and Oprah. Ironically, we’ve used our faith and our triumph as an excuse to ignore the very real problem of mental illness in our community, thereby doing ourselves a disservice. It’s time we changed that.
I’m a person of immense faith. I believe prayer changes things. I’ve seen it happen time after time. However, never would I tell a friend who’s battling cancer to “pray it away” and never see an oncologist. Mental illness can be deadly. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 34,000 people took their own lives in 2007. We need to take this thing seriously. We shouldn’t be so dismissive of people who are genuinely struggling.
If you are battling mental illness in any form, I want you to know that you’re not defective, you’re not “crazy,” and you certainly aren’t alone. Get the help you need. There’s no shame in it whatsoever.