Few people are privy to the fact that July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. As many people know, mental health is something that does not discriminate when it comes to race. Because of this, however, it can be and is much harder on children of colour who suffer from a mental illness(es) due to their ethnic backgrounds.
As a person of colour myself, I can definitely attest to this. I’m the first generation daughter to very traditional Central American parents who simply do not believe in the “nonsense that is mental health.” They believe that health is only physical and any other “condition” or “problem” is due to the fact that one did not pray enough or hasn’t been grateful for their blessings given to them from God. Simply put, to them mental illness doesn’t exist.
Because of this, I never and still to this day have not, nor will I ever if I’m completely honest, talked to my parent about my mental illnesses. From the ages of ten to sixteen, I suffered in silence with an eating disorder, but from a younger age found myself suffering with anxiety and OCD that only grew more and more severe as I’ve gotten older. I never even received help for my mental health, but now that I’m older I realise why that is. It was the fact that I simply could not talk to my parents. I knew that if I ever tried, I would ever be laughed at, cussed at, and/or hit with the chancla for “being stupid and claiming something against God’s will” because “mental illness is a disease and you don’t have any diseases, you are fine. I never want to hear you say that again.”
So I beg that parents, especially parents of colour, please have an open dialogue with your children. Learn to listen to your child when they try to tell you about what they are feeling. They probably won’t understand what’s going on themselves so you cannot be frustrated with them when they can’t seem to find the words to match how they feel. Your child is still a child at the end of the day. If they are coming to you with this, they are brave and they trust you, don’t lose that trust. Do not, please for the love of all that is good, do not shut down their feelings like you shut off the tv at the end of the day, because then they will shut down as well.
Your child is suffering from a mental illness, but that does not mean it is the end of the world. Care for them. Love them. Show them that everything will be moderately okay. Give them the support and get them the medication, if needed, that they deserve. Do not cast away your child simply because you don’t understand what they’re experiencing. Be there for them. They need you more than you will ever know; I know I needed mine.