Dealing with Depression: Unpacking the Stigma of Mental Health in The Black Community

While being a Black person living in America does come with many joys, like the beauty of our community or the uniqueness of our cultures, being Black in America is not an experience of only sunshine and rainbows. From the systemic racism that plagues our society to the compacted experience of other intersections such as womanhood, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, living with a disability, or living in poverty, as Black people we know that we are sure to face adversity at some point in our lives. But while we hold this to be true, there still remains a stigma and/or a lack of conversation surrounding mental health within the community. 

Depression, anxiety, fatigue, and sorrow are all natural parts of the human experience, yet within the Black community we rarely talk about these topics nor express when we are going through these periods. Often bottling up our emotions in the “I’m good” response to “How are you,” we not only silence the truth of our current mental state but also shut out the possibility of anyone helping us. This lack of wearing our feelings and expressing how we truly feel is not a new phenomenon but dates back to the era of slavery. 

Double consciousness: the idea of knowing one must act one way in a certain setting while maintaining one’s true nature in another, was often the state of the enslaved Africans brought to America. In order to ensure the survival of their families, their communities and at time themselves, the enslaved – no matter how tired, depressed or fatigued – had to “show face” for the white community they served. This paired with the heavy reliance on religion as a substitute to healthy mental health practices and environments laid the foundation for the state of Black mental health today. 

The elders of our community, who only had access to tools like religion and burying themselves in their families and work to get through, passed these methods down to current generations, but in the modern world where mental health is not as taboo as we might feel, there are so many more options to dealing with depression and anxiety. 

Here are 7 tools and methods to combat depression and anxiety.

  1. Go on Nature Walks: Oftentimes when we are depressed, we just want to curl up in bed, and not be bothered but this not moving and not doing only makes us feel lazy and more helpless. Getting up and going for walks not only allows us to take in sunshine and fresh air – which are scientifically proven to boost one’s mood – but also allows us to reflect. Tools like walking and seeing the world around us allows us to understand that while our problems might feel larger than life, our world is much bigger than our problems and there is still joy and peace out there to be found.
  2. Do Not Isolate: Hanging around people can be emotionally draining when depressed, and while it might feel counter intuitive, hanging around friends, family and community is a great way to boost one’s mood and remind yourself that you aren’t alone. Depression has a way of making one’s life seem small and hopeless but by hanging around loving community, we remind ourselves we are never as alone as we may feel. That there are people out there who love us, value us and would be there for us if we only bother to reach out.
  3. Get Help: While depression can create feelings that we feel no one understands it’s important to understand we are not the first people ever to feel this way and there are resources and tools set up to aid us. Talking with a licensed therapist who has professional training to deal with anxiety and depression allows us to have a safe place to unpack our emotions, deal with any trauma that might come up and slowly and steadily take the steps to healing and a more positive headspace.
  4. Write It Out: Daily journaling offers a chance to connect with oneself and put the feelings one might be going through out on paper. Journaling provides the ability to see what we are going through and can oftentimes lead to clear solutions now that the feelings are put down clearly and not just living in our heads and hearts.
  5. Patience, Presence and Mindfulness: The weight of depression and anxiety can make us in a rush to get to a positive place. But just like the depression did not occur overnight, neither will the healing. Practicing gentleness with ourselves, being patient as we grow, present as we experience life and practicing mindfulness in our daily tasks can allow us to not focus on the billions of things we have to get done nor want to feel better but rather focus on just being and living in the present moment. Small steps create larger moves, live in the small steps.
  6. Stay Active: During a depressive season or a period of anxiety, it is important to remain connected and attuned with not only hearts and minds but also our body. Staying active through practices like working out, yoga and meditation allows us to not only be healthy in our bodies and stay connected with ourselves but also allows us to combat the way depression and anxiety linger in our physical bodies. Practicing daily movement along with meditative practices allows us to release in our mind and in our bodies.
  7. This Too Shall Pass: Lastly remember that you have experienced joy and the beauty of life, and you will experience it once again. Depression and anxiety can make us feel so down that we think we will never be able to stand up right again. In these moments remember your past to get through your present. Remember you have faced hard times and moments of difficulty before and while those moments felt larger than life you still made it through them. Remind yourself that if you it did once before, while the situation might be different, you can do it once again. This too shall pass, and you can create joy and beauty in your future.

 

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