Mental Health Stigmas Shames Us Into Silence

Photo by Molly Belle on Unsplash

The truth of the matter is that most people do not seek help for mental illness because of the stigmas that surround mental illness. If we are really honest with ourselves, we can acknowledge that we do not want to be shamed or seen as weak. Mental illness to some implies ‘less than normal’. For many of us, mental illness means that we have somehow caused our brains to stop functioning properly and we should, therefore, be ashamed of our deficits. Society tells us that only normal is acceptable. Yet, I’m still trying to figure out who decides the standards for normal?

Like any illness, mental illness runs along a continuum. Everyone experiences their symptoms and conditions in their own way. Yes, symptoms may be common across diagnoses, conditions, and disorders. But, if we were to experience individual narratives and experiences, we would find that no two individuals experience their illnesses the same way. This is the humanness within us. Stigmas, though, shame us into being quiet about our experiences. Then, society deepens our shame by reinforcing the fabled ‘superhero invulnerable complex’ which is thrusted upon both men and women, and sadly children as well, telling us that we should never embrace vulnerability. I think this is why Brène Brown’s work has been so important. We have been shamed into thinking that being vulnerable is wrong and makes us unworthy.

But…to be vulnerable is to be human

With all these negative messages surrounding us, reminding us that we are not enough and that we are not good enough, how can our mental health not be impacted? As I mentioned above, mental health runs along a continuum. This means that the severity of the symptoms can vary widely from person to person. More importantly, many people view mental health in the abstract form and only in the cases of severe mental illnesses, especially in the media. However, we forget that mental illness can be broken down into daily routines and habits. We can break down mental health into the messages we tell ourselves daily; the messages we receive from loved ones, including parents and partners; the messages we take into our minds from the music we listen to and the information we consume daily. To make this clearer, consider Instagram where people are constantly posting pictures of their ‘perfect lives’. Viewers see these images and constantly viewing these images over time can begin to erode the viewers’ self-worth and self-esteem. The lower our self-esteem and self-worth, the more we begin to feel that we are not enough and our flaws become overwhelming. Let’s be clear that these feelings do not stay isolated. No, they spread into other areas of our lives and the shame of these negative feelings begins to make us feel that this is now our reality and our truth. Now, we believe only what shame has shown us to be truth and we neglect all the positives about us and our lives. Kelly Flanagan, in his book, Loveable, breaks down how deeply rooted shame is within our lives and how much it eats away at our self-worth. ...

Is Mental Health a Betrayal of our Spiritual Beliefs?

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Spirituality and mental health are very much related, but together they make many people uncomfortable and maybe even, confrontational. There is the age-old issue of therapists not wanting to work with clients who are of different faiths. There is the issue of therapists not wanting to work with clients whose lifestyles differ from their religious beliefs. There are clients who do not want to work with therapists who are not of their cultural and religious beliefs. There are, of course, counselors who involve the clients’ faith in their therapy. I belong to the latter group. If a client wants to discuss their religious and spiritual beliefs, I am very much comfortable with that discussion. If the client’s faith is unfamiliar to me, well then, it’s my job to do research to get to know that belief, and also to listen to the client’s experiences of that belief.

Interestingly though, I have met individuals who feel that seeking a therapist is a betrayal of their religious beliefs. Personally, I had never considered that belief. Now, I have found that this is a common belief within the black community. Christianity is a common religious belief within the Black community and many of us have been raised in the church, so this belief of betrayal makes sense when I began to break this down. We are told that we should take everything to God in prayer and that we should seek His help. But somewhere in those thoughts and lessons, the idea that having faith alone was our only job became prevalent. Even the Bible notes that faith without works is dead. Putting thoughts and beliefs out into the world is only one part of the journey. ...

Black Mental Health…Social & Cultural Traumas

Image courtesy of Oprah.com

I think unlike any other race, blacks have had to endure excessive amounts of trauma that has lasted centuries and are hardwired into our psyche. These built-in emotional, cultural, spiritual, racial, and mental traumas have shaped our histories, our beliefs, values, and our strengths and weaknesses. When we say that black mental health is a necessity, we mean that we must be mindful of the hurt and trauma that lingers in our minds, bodies, emotions, and psyche. The late Maya Angelou said it best, “I come as one but stand as ten thousand,” because our souls are filled with the pain of the past hurts and continued triggers we still deal with.

Social issues

Social issues faced by the Black communities include mass incarceration, gang violence, poverty and generational poverty, unemployment and opportunities, drugs, single parenting, children born out of wedlock, language barriers, lack of resources, education, and sexual education. Additionally, our community struggles with long-held systemic issues that have plagued all our cultures for centuries, not just the American culture. Social issues are difficult to overcome as they present as everyday issues that we deal with; hence, sometimes we may no longer recognize them as issues because they are so ingrained in our minds and lives. For us to overcome social issues, we must want more for ourselves and we must take control of ourselves instead of waiting for someone to give us something because the world does not work that way. For example, I have worked with clients who have not even considered a future for themselves. If we cannot conceive or even dream of a future, we are already lost. We cannot envision a goal, and we cannot dream of actionable steps toward those goals. If we have nothing to look forward to or work toward, then we are just biding our time, wasting time even. ...

Black Mental Health…Does It Matter?

Photo by Olayinka Babalola on Unsplash

So, I figured I would just jump right into the heart of the matter. I created this website to spread awareness about mental health, particularly black mental health. As a therapist, I am wholeheartedly in support of taking care of ourselves…mind, body, and spirit. I believe that self-care should be holistic and serve us in the ways that we need to be served. With that being said, I know that we understand the value of seeking medical expertise for our bodies and seeking God, or the universe, or whomever you seek for spiritual fulfillment, but we oftentimes neglect our mental health because we are not taught to take care of ourselves.

On a contemporary note, as a woman, and a woman of color, selfishness is not a habit that I was taught. I was taught to take care of everyone and their needs. The lesson was not directly taught that I shouldn’t take care of myself. Rather, it was that I take care of everyone’s needs so that by the time I was done with that, there was never any energy left to do anything for myself. I carried that behavior into adulthood and motherhood until my training as a therapist. The issue then became, undoing a lifetime of lessons, with this newfound knowledge.  So, naturally, I struggled with making these changes in my own life.

On a historical note, the Black community is rife with trauma because of our history and ongoing societal environments. We have only to turn on a TV and see images of ourselves portrayed negatively or being reminded that we should feel less than. I think we understand estimate the toll the constant barrage of negative images has on us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Embracing selfishness allows us to enforce self-care techniques to replenish ourselves. Healthy mental health practices do not have to only apply if we are in crisis or dealing with trauma or a mental health disorder. The goal is to become proactive in our mental health practices so that we are actively taking care of ourselves. ...