“You’re a strong black woman, just deal with it.” “Pray about it and everything will be fine.” These are two phrases that were preached to me from a very young age. I would bet my last dollar that if I stop any African American woman on the street and ask her, she has heard one or both phrases also preached to her. Unfortunately, these are also the two phrases that kept me stuck in a web of denial and pain as I grappled with depression for many years.
Being a strong black woman that just deals with it was a generational rite of passage. It’s as if dealing with pain or mental health struggles on your own, untreated, undiagnosed was a way of proving that you’ve earned the family name. In my late twenties and early thirties, I did just that. I wouldn’t dare think of letting all the strong black women that came before me down by going to see a therapist or talking to strangers about my struggles or ever consider filling a prescription that would help me cope with anxiety or depression. I better not! Would it make me weak? Would it somehow make me less black if I did? These are questions that I asked myself.
African American communities have largely depended on church, religion and God for support for many decades and my family is no exception. Growing up in the church, I can remember hearing others refer to church members who “just weren’t right in the head” and allude to the fact that “we” just need to keep praying about it and they’ll be fine. So consequently, when I didn’t feel quite right in the head, I thought that if I prayed hard enough all my troubles would go away. Not so much. Prayer alone wasn’t enough for me.
I’m grateful that I finally arrived at a place of desperation that dispelled those myths. I finally cared more about myself than I did about what others thought of me. I sought care and received helped. It turns out that seeking help took more strength than I thought I was displaying by suffering alone.
Having a mental illness in my community is not as taboo as it used to be but there is still so much education that needs to happen, especially in the black urban church. I have a personal goal to bring education into the churches of WNY. Pastors and leaders must become better equipped because there is still a huge population of African Americans that will turn to their religious leaders for the answers of things that should be addressed by a mental health professional. There is so much work to do.
Learning and Development Consultant | Motivational Speaker | Coach | Facilitator