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I started writing an essay about the mental health crisis in the Black community for another blog more than two weeks ago. I was inspired by an insightful conversation with my 17-year-old son about the issue, which I’ll get to in a moment. Then two recent events changed my focus, and I decided to write something for my fellow single mommies. Because ladies, we have got to do better by each other.
Last week, the news broke that the body of missing Michigan native Dr. Teleka Patrick had been found. Missing since late 2013, it’s been hypothesized that Dr. Patrick suffered from mental illness which presented itself before her disappearance. Her death deeply affected me because it was real proof that undiagnosed and untreated psychological problems can result in death.
Almost immediately following word of Dr. Patrick’s death was the news that the young founder of the popular For Brown Girls blog, Karyn Washington died from an apparent suicide. A brilliant champion for Black women, Ms. Washington was a much-needed voice in the blogosphere. Now her voice has been silenced by her own hand.
These are only two of some recent high-profile tragedies stemming from untreated or under treated mental illnesses in the Black community. In late 2012, a young rap artist named Capital Steez killed himself at age 19. He seemed to have every reason to live: a vibrant music career that allowed him to get paid doing what he loved. Yet he committed suicide.
Then in 2013, actor Lee Thompson Young killed himself. Thompson successfully made the transition from child star in The Disney Channel’s “The Famous Jett Jackson” to working adult actor on TNT’s “Rizzoli and Isles”. He also seemed to have plenty of reasons to live. Still, he shot himself to death.
What the Hell is going on, here? Why are so many talented young African-Americans dying because of mental illness or disease?
And when are we Black people going to get our heads out of our asses and recognize that we have a serious mental health crisis in our community?
As far as Black women, I believe we suffer from a combination of the “Superwoman” syndrome and the “Pray on it, Baby” syndrome. We’re too strong to need psychological care and if something’s wrong, we just need to pray about it.
African-American women have long been the “mules” of society, raising other’s kids, caring for other’s homes, doing the grunt work on whatever job we were lucky enough to get, and then coming home and doing it all over again for our own families. It’s always been a source of pride that we’ve been able to carry the world’s burdens and still look good, have fun, praise God and uplift others. We’ve held our heads high, suffered in silence and never asked for help.
When our burdens become too heavy and Black women do lean on others, we often turn to our churches for help. In our Pastor’s loving arms, we’re prayed for and reassured that everything will get better “by and by”. Sometimes it does get better. And when it doesn’t, we just pray harder and keep moving.
I’m strong because I have to be. I’m a single mother so I have no choice! That’s just how our world works, right? Our very survival and the survival of our children depend upon our strength.
But dammit, sometimes I need professional help! Just like my body doesn’t always function the way it’s supposed to, neither does my mind. And that doesn’t make me weak, it makes me human.
Thanks for your prayers, Pastor. I know prayer works. I’m living proof that prayer works. But how about you give me the name and number of a good psychologist when we get off our knees?
My faith is strong but I also believe that God gave everyone certain gifts. Some people are gifted singers; some are brilliant teachers; some people are gifted athletes. And some people are gifted healers who have been trained to treat what ails us. Psychological ailments are as real as physical ones, and must be medically treated as such.
Back to the conversation I had with my son. In our school district, in order for a student to participate in school activities, they need an annual physical completed by a licensed physician on file. My son, a huge Capital Steez fan who was deeply hurt by his death, believes that students should be required to have annual mental health exams, too. He believes that we must remove the stigma from mental illness in order for people to get the help they need long before they harm themselves or others. I think he’s right.
Black people absolutely must accept that mental illness is as real as the diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease that are so prevalent among us. And just like those other diseases, if left undiagnosed and untreated, mental illnesses will keep killing us, too.
Ladies, we’ve got to better for each other, for ourselves and for our kids. Let’s lift the stigma from mental health care and get the help we need. I don’t want to lose anymore more talented sisters, do you?
Photo Credits: missaleck.com, huffingtonpost.com