Mental Health Awareness Week: Eliminating the Stigma

October 6th-12th is Mental Illness Awareness Week. With millions of people affected each year, the stigmatized topic is now making it’s way to the forefront with more people speaking out and sharing their stories.

It’s no secret that this issue is looked at as a taboo in the African Community. As someone who openly deals with anxiety on a regular basis, when it comes to mental health in our community, you’ll usually either the “just pray about it” or the “it’ll pass” type of response. The truth is, it’s perfectly okay to not always be okay. In African culture, a lot of us have been led to believe that being in touch with our emotions is a form of weakness. I used to always put the blame on my parents for my battles with my mental health, but in all reality can we really blame them? What many people don’t know is trauma can be passed down, especially when it is not dealt with. A lot of our parents went through their own personal traumas back home that have been left in the dust. Never addressed, looked at or even acknowledged. Then we come in the picture. They teach us how to deal with trauma the same way they were taught. Be strong, don’t show to much emotion, move on and long story short, the generational cycle continues. Let me be the first to tell you (yes, YOU the strong friend) that there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable about your emotions. Too many of us are left suffering in silence due to the stigma associated with mental health. Look at it this way, when we are physically sick we take care of our illness by using the proper medications and/or treatments to treat it. The same way we make sure to take care of our physical bodies is the same way we ought to approach our mental and emotional health. It’s okay to reach out for help. It’s okay to take medication. It’s okay to see a therapist. Lastly, once again, it’s okay to not always be okay.

Eliminating the stigma in our community starts with the US. Here is a list of ways we can do that:

  • First and foremost, educate yourself. Not all mental illnesses are “scary” and most importantly you are NOT crazy. A lot of our parents fail to see certain signs or systems due to a lack of being educated on this particular topic. For example, being depressed isn’t just being “sad” it’s actually a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes our emotions to react accordingly. Read up on some of these topics and really get an understanding of what they are before you pass judgment.
  • Second, have compassion and be understanding. Displaying those two characteristics will make it easier for those around you to speak rather than keep their feelings to themselves. You may not always understand, but sometimes most people are just looking for someone who is willing to listen.
  • Lastly, share your story. If you’ve dealt with any mental health issue or are currently dealing with one, share it. You may not realize it but there is so much freedom for others through your vulnerability. It becomes a domino effect. When people share their experience it shows others that they are not alone in the fight and they too will feel open enough to share their story as well.

If you are struggling, know that there are people out there who care for you and many resources to help. Listed below are a few resources:

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