BLACK MINDS MATTER: Mental Health in the Black Community
It is well known that America is all about what is profitable, but it is far less admitted that we have often chosen profitability over equity. Can profitability and equity even exist in the same sentence? (I just did it, but you know what I mean) This post will challenge what we have come to know as equality and one of the ways in which we have missed the mark as a nation.
First of all, equity and equality are not the same thing. As Wes Bellamy stated on the podcast On One with Angela Rye, and I paraphrase, “equality is when everyone gets the same thing, equity is when everyone gets what they need to be successful.” When we recognize and admit that everyone does not start at the same point and some of us have been afforded privileges by birthright, it makes sense that fairness only comes into play once equity is the goal, instead of equality. You will see me use the word equity more as opposed to equality now.
A few years ago, I took a good hard look at myself and wasn’t all that pleased. Through learning that other women in my family have dealt with mental health issues, I was able to admit to myself that I had been depressed for a long time and finally began healing the open wounds I had been living with since childhood. I am still a work in progress, and still have to actively remind myself that depression is something I was born into; it is the unfortunate truth about the environment in which I was raised. But this post isn’t about me specifically, it is about the narrative told by the media. It’s about each and every black person who has been described as lazy, angry, dirty, and content with their poverty stricken lifestyle.
In case you didn’t know, every black person is not living in poverty, but much of the black population is still living in poverty in just about every urban area you can think of. Many of these black people are in GREAT need of psychological help. While mental health issues effect every demographic, I think it is time we admit that a huge part of the psychosis that exists in black urban areas is due to years of physical and mental abuse, oppression, and ultimately, depression of a very special kind. Can you think of another group of people who have endured physical and mental abuse for as long as African and black people have? The ripple effect of slavery is still affecting us today.
Our history tells us a WHOLE LOT about how we got here, as a nation, as a community and globally. If you look at the history of any country, it will tell you about the current conditions there. Here in America, while slavery has been over for a century and a half, many black people are still struggling and need help. In case you didn’t know, most black people are not looking for a hand-out. This is a misconception. What they are looking for is help repairing the damage done by this country, acknowledgement of the shameful history, and a public denunciation of slavery-like ideals and tactics used to keep black people oppressed in today’s day and age.
If you or your family has ever lived in poverty over a period of years, you know that depression is a by-product of poverty and dysfunction is a by-product of depression, and it is a vicious cycle. There is so much harm done in impoverished communities and there are many factors at play. Mental health has the ability to change the trajectory of these communities. According to the study “Poverty linked to childhood depression, changes in brain connectivity”,
“Many things can be done to foster brain development and positive emotional development,” she said. “Poverty doesn’t put a child on a predetermined trajectory, but it behooves us to remember that adverse experiences early in life are influencing the development and function of the brain. And if we hope to intervene, we need to do it early so that we can help shift children onto the best possible developmental trajectories.” (Jim Dryden, 2016)
With each passing generation, our psychological health becomes less and less stable. The future generations are at risk and we can do something about it.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will. It is not a predisposition of black people to be angry! It is a result of years of oppression. Some black people have recovered nicely, others are still in dire need of support and psychological reversal of the mental and emotional effects of slavery. It just isn’t reasonable for our country to expect black people to just snap out of it, when just over 50 years have passed since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Think of it this way, it was within my parents’ lifetime that the state of affairs for most black people have dramatically begun to improve.
There is a connection between poverty, mental health and dysfunctional communities. Admission of this fact, would make us stronger as a whole. In truth, our nation as a whole is in dire need of mental health reform. Maybe if we considered mental health a medical need for all, black families would finally stop running from the shame of being called “crazy” and start addressing their very real mental issues.
We are stronger and wiser when we know the truth. What happens next is determined but your next action. I challenge you to check yourself the next time you look down on or feel shame when you see a black person arguing on the bus, or when you see a young mother struggling to make ends meet, or when you see that homeless man hustling to make a few coins. Challenge yourself to see them as human first, then imagine what may have happened in their lives that led them to this point. Lastly, I challenge you to start imploring your representatives to pay attention to and fight for more access to mental health resources, especially in poverty stricken communities.
(Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 27 Jan. 2016, medicine.wustl.edu/news/poverty-linked-to-childhood-depression-changes-in-brain-connectivity/. Accessed 23 Aug. 2017.)