For whatever reason, it seems as if there is this unspoken suggestion that our brains are invincible. Our brain, although dynamically fascinating and complex, is in no way less susceptible to illness. It is not this magical organ disaffected by abnormalities or disease. It’s an organ, like our hearts, our lungs, our kidneys, and our liver.
So, what is it about mental illness that makes a lot of people silent or ashamed?
People with mental disorders are often perceived as violently irrational, and unfortunately, “violently irrational” is the only workable definition some people are willing to accept. It’s a tragically inaccurate observation that criminalizes sufferers. Such a stigmatic definition, rooted in myths and stereotypes fuels fear and denial, and disappointingly creates a shameful barrier between help and suffering.
Overwhelmingly, when I’ve discussed depression, bipolar disorder or ADHD with other black people, holistic, non-invasive solutions are identified as most effective. There is a tone of despair and a need to create a tragedy to make the mental illness more palatable. There is also the inevitable debate about the validity of mental health disorders. Some people are convinced that some of these disorders are new, more specifically, ADHD. I hear people suffering from bipolar disorder called, “crazy.” But my personal favorite is depression being touted as a weakness, easily curable by thankfulness, because, it could be worse. Alternatively, there is the offering of prayer and the casting out of bad spirits as fail-safe remedies.
Just as “funny” has long been tossed around by black folk as the code word for gay, “touched” is a popular code word for all mental disorders. Mental illness is often whispered and talked at in the black community and seldom discussed. The taboo may come from this unshakable belief that black people must appear strong at all times. Mental illness unequivocally challenges our ideas of what is considered strong. Historically, blacks have been considered comparatively less intelligent than whites. As such, I believe, whether consciously or subconsciously, as a global community, we fight to prove we are just as smart and capable as anyone. It is inconceivable for many of us to accept how uncontrollable and debilitating these disorders can be, and a lot of us who suffer often resist the reality of our disorder, because there is nothing more tragic than to be black and weak.
The truth is, continuing to stay silent, or at the very least inactively observant, can prove to be fatal.
Black people are more likely to develop a mentaldisorder, but least likely to seek treatment . In addition, suicide is more likely among young black men. Because treatable mental disorders cause 80-90 percent of suicide deaths, it is likely black men are dying unnecessarily, unable to find a safe place to heal from their suffering.
We have to start being honest about mental health in our community. Our mental illnesses DO NOT define how intelligent or capable we are. Some of the most brilliant artists, scientists, writers, and philosophers suffer from depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD.
Yes, outward appearances can be cleverly deceiving, but consider the deaths of Chris Lighty and Shakir Stewart. They were praised as ambitious and successful, and their deaths were received with surprise and confusion. Why would these successful, young black men commit suicide? Black people don’t commit suicide.
I’m afraid we do.