This was recently presented at a wellness event and we thought it would be good to share with the broader community.
Good Afternoon! It is wonderful to be here to talk about this important topic, during the 80th anniversary of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Women’s History month. In honor of the month I am dedicating this presentation to Inez Prosser, PhD who was the first African American woman to receive her doctoral degree in Psychology. She was born in 1895, received her BA in education in 1924 and her master’s in educational psychology from the University of Colorado and her PhD from University of Cincinnati in 1933.
I am going to start the talk like this:
By Paul Laurence Dunbar
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
Bullet for My Valentine lyrics:
If I tear you open wide, take a look inside
Are you pretty?
Can I get inside your mind, see what I can find?
Are you pretty?
So just take off that disguise, everyone knows that you’re only
Pretty on the outside.
Ponder this rhyme and lyrics for just a moment…
Regardless of age, race, religion, country of origin, gender, or economic status mental illness can take hold and take you over. They say 1 in 4 Americans will experience a mental health problem. African Americans (AA) are 20 % more likely to have serious psychological distress than the general population. We also sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions, for a number of reasons. A Denver Public Health study done last year showed an 11% gap between African Americans and other groups related to rates of depression. There are still some when we speak about this that who say, “ it don’t involve me” – especially Black women. WE are so strong, so stoic, so resilient. WE are out there sojourning through our troubles and taking care of everybody but ourselves. Because Black/AA people are supposed to be strong – weather any storm, “never let them see you sweat”, and certainly never air the dirty laundry in public.
Everyone, including us strong Black women need to be engaged because mental health stigma is still very prominent in the Black community – folks not wanting to be viewed as “crazy”. Folks not believing that mental health is a real health concern and folks viewing those with depression as weak. But remember that the brain is connected to the body. To be WHOLE and all the way healthy we need mind, body and soul working together. We can’t be healthy without good mental health.
The fact is that most of us have been touched in some way by mental illness, whether it is ourselves, a family member, a Soror, or a close friend. By nature of living in America—-with racism – the stress of being Black in America, poverty, and chronic illnesses, we can’t help but be touched. So many microaggressions, like what I experienced earlier this week that made me want to lose my dignity, people messing with you just because they can, wears on us. All these factors put us at risk for mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and so on… Though we wear our masks, these things take a toll on our psyche.
Without good mental health WE can’t be healthy. WE must be intentional about taking care of our mental health. When I say WE, I am talking about us as individuals and the royal WE which is the whole community tending to this issue. Shedding and shredding mental health stigma is a community affair. WE need to work to end the stigma, including educating and having conversations about the issue. In New York in 2017, the sistahs took it upon themselves to develop Sisters Thrive with the lofty goal of training 10,000 African American New Yorkers in Mental Health First Aid. It was a collaboration between all the major Black sororities, even the Links and Jack and Jill organizations got in on the deal. WE can work together to solve our issues.
As an individual you should reach out to a trusted friend, partner or community member for mental health support. Definitely seek treatment from a professional, not your girlfriend when you have lost hope and the will to live or can’t sleep at night. Only 25% of African Americans seek mental health treatment compared to 40% of the general population. Ask for a congruent therapist if one is available, if one is not then ask the majority provider if they have treated other African Americans, do they know anything about the culture or history of Africans in Americans, how do they plan to incorporate cultural background in communication with you? Find out what your insurance will pay to gain access to a therapist. If you don’t have insurance find other options.
There is so much more to say, but my time is up and that is enough for today.
I’m going to end with this— take off the mask, look in the mirror and ask yourself am I pretty, oh so pretty, so pretty, inside…. and out?
Go to the CBHC website www.coloradoblackhealth.org to find out what we are doing on May 4th to give the community tools. Tell us what you think about mental health/wellness in the Black/African American Community.