Sixteen Percent

I am a person who enjoys fun activities, a person that wants to be successful, and a person who searches for happiness. But the reality is, I am now 1 of the 16.

For my science geeks and data nerds, here are the numbers. 1 in 5 Americans deal with a mental illness in any given year. Out of all Americans, African Americans make up around 46 million people according to Mental Health America. So, we have 46 million brothers and sisters in this country alone and 16 percent of us have been diagnosed with a mental illness within a year. That is around 7 million people and these are just the people who realized that they need to seek help. Just imagine how much more people are out there that deal with an illness and have not had the opportunity to seek guidance on how to live better.

I sat down with a friend of mine, Christopher Brown, who was diagnosed the same year I was. He helped give me perspective on how it was for him, as a Black man, to recognize that he needs help, find out what his options are, and are they even working? When I was diagnosed, I did not have the financial means to get the mental health services as my white counterparts. So for me, I looked for other ways to deal with my truth. But, the pain is just the same.

We can talk all day about how different external factors affect your mental health. Stay away from toxic people, have a positive mindset, keep your cool at work, meditate when your stressed, the list goes on. But we do not talk enough about what happens after you have been diagnosed. You are thinking you are living your life the best you can and this situation occurs where you start to think, something is wrong with me. No matter how many yoga classes or mediation apps people tell you to take, having a mental illness is intense and needs a whole lot more than that. Even when you hear the word diagnose, it already opens another realm of questions. You first start to hope that your diagnosis it’s something like a cold. You take the medicine that is prescribed to you and it will be over before you know it. You can just move on. “Deep down you just wish someone had that one solution. This is what’s wrong, this is the solution, take this, and tomorrow you’ll feel better. But it doesn’t work like that.” From my experience, it is like unlearning everything you thought was good for you, unpack everything that was bad for you, and rebuilding for a side of you you have never met. The diagnosis is a way to finally get real about your life. It is a reality that affects all of us differently from all parts of the spectrum. You can never know where you may fall.For Chris, he was diagnosed with major depression. “I remember my doctors saying, well everyone has bad days. And I agree with that. But it’s kind of the opposite for me. it’s like I have good days…sometimes. For the most part, 90% of my life is torture in my head.” So like anyone wold do, he went looking for a way to make it all go away before anyone notices. We are already feeding our fears, self-doubt, and emotional pain that after hearing something like that, you can not blame us for not wanting to share the news to the world. We are told we are “not normal” and that develops our tactics for isolation and desperation. I think to myself, I can not have someone only look at me as this victim of my own mind. We tell ourselves that we can not allow the world to know that we are not even capable of dealing with adversity, when our ancestors survived slavery. It is a battle of being accepted by my own community and being accepted by myself. I do want people to understand that there is a difference between being stressed and having a diagnosis. We can throw around oh I’m so depressed or I’m bipolar to make fun of emotional behavior, but with no true understanding of what it actually means to really have a mental illness, that is a part of the problem in African American communities in the first place.

“I was in college and it got to the point where everything was going sideways for me. It was getting to the point where i was trying to harm myself. I was feeling so numb, that I felt like i had to do that in order to feel something.”

Having a mental illness can make you desperate. Which explains how mental health and substance-abuse have been in the same conversation for decades. When you feel you do not have control over your own body, you start looking for that one fix to your one problem. Whatever your poison is, we have all experienced where we are depending on something, in order to feel better or to feel nothing at all. But when you do decide to get help, what does that look like? Chris told me how it was for him with finding help. “Growing up, the internet was just on the rise and it wasn’t as powerful or accessible as it is today. So I couldn’t type in something asking how do I deal with this or how to deal with that. And even in the medical field, you gotta pay an arm and a leg just to talk to somebody, you know. Which it turns into more stress , because now you gotta worry about this bill.” While only 25% of African Americans seek treatment compared to 40% white people, there is still a lack of mental health services in black communities because of misdiagnosis, financial barriers, mental health stigma, and lack of representation in the mental health field in general. African Americans make up around 4% in mental health professionals *face palm*. In mainstream media, all you see is therapy and drugs. It is portrayed that these two options are your way out of being a statistic. And if you can not afford a therapist and/or skeptical of taking these drugs with ingredients you can not pronounce, you are expected to just deal with what you got the best way you can. Now although the black community lacks access to quality mental health providers and services, we can not ignore the idea of treatment has been morphed as a sign of weakness and increased our fear of being used as a science experiment or judged by someone who does not look like us. To help someone gain a better understanding of how it is to a be a human, you are pressured into being another customer to an operation that sees you as a dollar sign. When looking for options, especially for mental health, the main two things we seek validation for, is that we are not crazy and we are not alone. ”My artwork is something that I can pick up and do without thinking. But the down side to that is I can spend too much time drawing where I’m not spending time with my son, or my family. But I just feel so safe in that particular place.” You come up with this notion that you can only depend on yourself. But you just want to have someone in your corner who can help navigate what all of this really means. And when resources are not properly accessible, it justifies exactly what you assumed in the first place. Slowly I have learned that there are different strokes for different folks when it comes to helping them get through the day. But it is important for more of our people, diagnosed or not, the dozens of options that are available so we can find ways to feel less lost than we already are.

Get Help”

What are the other options you ask? Well as I am still learning myself, the very first thing that helped me unravel is starting from the very beginning. The more you suppress that moment when you were 5, the more it is going to hurt you when you are 35. Next, be honest with yourself. Once you are honest that you are not okay all the time and you need activities to ground you, your dedication will lead you to them. Go outside of your usual networks and watch the resources will slowly open their doors for you. Whether the resources are conventional, alternative, or simply needing a hug every once and a while; you will know what is out there and you will really start to feel a difference in your growth. At the end of the day, if you feel you are alone, seek support. If you feel that you may not be functioning through life as best as you can, seek help. Do your research on different outlets and see what works best for you. You are not the only one dealing with this. Remember there are 46 million of us. The important thing to remember, that helps me through my process, is that all the negativity you tell yourself is a lie. Forgive yourself for feeling you are your best friend and your worst enemy. You can confront your self-disappointment and take action in committing to something more for yourself. Believe me, we all are meant to be here and to be great.

Kiara Byrd