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The Black Plague: The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Black Community

The subject of African-Americans and mental health has been practically done to death time and time again and is a widely known subject, most recently touched upon, to a mass audience, in the show Empirealthough not in a fully accurate way. But another thing that is touched upon in the show is the stigma that comes with it. The stigma among the black community about mental health and mental illness, has been no secret for some time.  Recently, Rapper Kid Cudi revealed to fans that he is checking into rehab after battling depression and suicidal urges.

What some articles don’t have is the personal testimony of a black person who acknowledges and has had their own experience with their mental health. This article has such a person; myself.

I’ve suffered from depression since the age of 13, the catalyst of which began when I was four. I didn’t seek help until I was almost 19. Part of the reason it took me almost six years to seek professional help was the culture and environment I was raised in. The common belief for the acknowledgment of mental health is that it is disregarded as being a sign of weakness, or that it makes the person seem crazy. I can say from experience that this is true. The stigma, as I have experienced, comes from the individual afflicted by it. In my case my depression stemmed from years of emotional and mental abuse I suffered in grade school. To counteract this I put on the facade of seeming mentally resilient and emotionally dead. Trying resilient to the tribulations of our past is something the black community is all too familiar with, but the consequences of these repressed negative emotions remain the same.

African-Americans put a high standard on themselves as individuals. Constantly trying to prove to a world that seeks to put them down that they are resilient to the bullshit that gets thrown at them. There’s no room for mental illness. Everything else is stacked against you, so the idea of your mind being against you too is incomprehensible. But the cost of outward resilience is internal decay or as Tupac put it, in his song “Keep Ya Head Up”, “Dying inside, but outside you’re looking fearless.” My own battle with mental illness left my self-esteem irreparably damaged, my basic social skills askew, and has instilled in me a fear of my own happiness. Yes there’s a lot good days but most days I feel less than desirable.

I’m not telling this story to gain sympathy or pity; frankly I don’t want it. I’m telling this about myself because the sad truth is there are thousands of cases like mine. Thousands of black men, young and old are facing the pain of mental illness in varying degrees of severity. I’m telling this because mental illness isn’t something you can suppress; it’s a pick ax that slowly chips away at everything you love about life. I’m telling this because mental illness doesn’t make you weak.

My brothers and sisters we are strong and we are resilient, but to not seek help when needed is not only harming ourselves but the people we love. If you’re not getting help for yourselves then do it for them. We are resilient, but we are also compassionate and kind; attributes that mental illness can suppress. So from one black person to another, please seek help.


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