Stigma – [stig-muh] noun:
- a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.
- a mental or physical mark that is characteristic of a defect or disease.
Nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime – that’s roughly 49 million people…49 MILLION. So that means there’s a pretty good chance you know a person or two who’s dealing with some form of mental illness right now.
Mental illness is particularly pertinent to people of color, although many refuse to believe that brown people can suffer from such ailments. Be that as it may, 18.9% of African Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, and Hispanics are close behind at 16.3%. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that only .25% of African Americans actively seek mental health care, compared to a whopping 40% of Caucasians who seek help when needed.
When someone feels as if they can’t ask for help due to this irrational fear of humiliation, not only do they choose not to seek care from a medical professional, but the individual is not practicing the best self care. Without a doubt, the perception of minorities being exempt from mental illness comes from a lack of education on the topic. Not to mention, the unspoken rule that Black people (especially men) have to remain strong, fearless and independent at all times. We can’t show any sign of weakness – lest you want to run the risk of being judged and sometimes even ridiculed by family, friends, coworkers, even church members…
Allow me to address and then clarify a few common misconceptions that further the stigma of mental illness – many of which I’ve personally faced, and often times still do:
- The thought that someone who is depressed is just being lazy.
- People with mental illnesses simply aren’t trying hard enough to feel better.
- Having a more positive outlook on life will make your symptoms go away.
- People who suffer from anxiety disorders are “flakey” or not dependable.
- Praying or putting your issues in the hands of God or a higher power will make them go away.
These stigmas couldn’t be farther from the truth! For most people, their mental illness is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain that doesn’t allow their neurotransmitters to communicate appropriately in processing emotion and behavior.
So if someone you know says they’re depressed and they have little to no energy to complete tasks or even get out of bed – believe them. Trust me, no one wants to sit around all day feeling hopeless and unmotivated to do anything. You certainly can’t wish away mental illness, or try harder not to have it, just like you can’t wish away the flu or tell yourself to stop feeling like crap: It is a real illness that requires medication, therapy, and a good self care routine. The same is true for having a positive outlook on life. Looking on the bright side” isn’t always enough when you’re dealing with mental illness. Now, I’ve been called a flake my whole life: I used to cancel plans with friends and often isolate myself instead of going out and socializing with people I care about. Not because I’m a bad friend or a loner, but rather because I have both social and generalized anxiety disorders. Sometimes I just need to be alone, and that’s okay too! This last point REALLY gets under my skin, because I love my Lord & Savior – but as I said before about wishing problems away, the same is true for praying. Without getting too deep, I believe that prayer and spirituality does play a part in any type of healing, but you can’t get help if you don’t try and help yourself as well…
With that being said, let’s stop with all the stigma and judging around mental illness. Take the time to educate yourself, so you can be a better friend, parent, child, partner or whatever else to that person in your life struggling with mental illness. And for my fellow Dreamers, let’s continue to show the world that we’re mentally strong, and perfectly imperfect just the way we are.