Just a couple months after the world unexpectedly stopped, when schools and churches closed its doors, unemployment rates at an all time high, and city streets were empty, Valerie, a successful, well-liked black entrepreneur of 20 years, packed her bags for a weekend road trip from Tennessee to North Carolina. It would be 6 hours of good music, open roads, mountain sides and peace. The Coronavirus pandemic left Valerie out of work, homeschooling her children, and consuming more anxiety-driven news than any individual could handle.
One notification after another prompted her to log on to social media; Valerie immediately froze. Her eyes wide and her bottom lip to the floor as she witnessed the death of George Floyd. He was murdered in daylight by police officer Derek Chauvin who rested his knee on George's neck for 9 1/2 minutes. She stood there heartbroken; tears rolled down her eyes as if George were her brother or her father or her son!
"This is driving me crazy!!!" she thought to herself.
From one inhuman death of a black man to another of a black woman, Breonna Taylor; Both murdered by police officers, Valorie noticed herself feeling rage and anger at the sight every person wearing a badge of the "law". Her engagement on social media became more of angry rants about systematic oppression and racism against blacks, and less healthy dialogues.
Yep, it was time for a break!
A trip that was supposed to be a moment of reflection and planning, meditation and balance didn’t go as planned after her mother asked to join. Valerie had always had a complicated relationship with her mother. For reasons unknown to Valerie, her mother didn’t raise her. She and her siblings were raised by another family member.
It would be this trip that devastates her mentally and brings awareness to the trauma and hidden emotions she felt as a result of the abandonment caused by her parents. One conversation after another, Valerie and her mother disagreed and argued. Ultimately, she lost it— yelling, screaming, crying, shaking, and hyperventilating. Thoughts of death crossed her mind as her heart beats out of her chest and the feeling of numbness ran through her limbs. “Breathe”, she told herself. Slowly coaching herself back to a physical calm, Valerie’s mind was far from any state of calm. From one extreme thought to another, her mental state was vulnerable. She felt less and less like herself and more and more prompted to drive away from that place. Run away from the past that haunted her and the present that had her feeling helpless. This was Valerie's breaking point!
Yet, this was the pivotal moment when she could choose to get in the ring with anger, stress, anxiety, and low energy to fight for her mental well-being.
So where does Valerie go from here?
Although the phrases are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between poor mental health and mental illness. A person can experience poor mental health and NOT be diagnosed with a mental illness just as, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of mental, physical and social well-being. According to www.mentalhealth.gov/, over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. I am now aware that everyone can and most likely at some moment in their life, have to face mental struggles. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry, Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse or Family history of mental health problems. Valerie's struggles were from a combination of contributing factors.
In this article, we will focus on how trauma that blacks have and still is experiencing in America correlates with the issue of mental health in black communities.
Black history is filled with generations of trauma; from the shackles of slavery to the public display of murder against black men and women. "The significant role that race and systemic racism play both historically and in today's world can, and is, affecting individuals psychologically. " Repeated trauma and stress have real effects on your overall health; not just your physical, but your mental health as well.
The belief of mental illness has long been masked in shame and humiliation in the Black community. As blacks, we are taught to take pride in being able to withstand the stresses that come with being a minority in a country that your Ancestors built. The quieter we are, the stronger we are. That’s bull shit though! We are taught to silently “deal with” Racial and social injustices, systematic oppression, police brutality and murders against blacks, mass incarceration, Black women dying in the care of physicians at an alarming rate in comparison to their white counterparts. We are programmed to believe that pressing through our feelings of anxiety and depression makes us stronger. That could be no further from the truth!
The lingering stigma that implies that having poor mental health or even a mental illness is a sign of weakness; is slowly transitioning to socially sensitive yet effective dialogue between blacks. Because of the amount of mental health awareness that is being poured into our communities, comfortable dialogue within the black community has become more prevalent.
I recently found a source of refuge in a book called The Unapologetic Guild to Black Mental Health. “Whether we identify as “Black” or “African American,” people of African descent experience a complex psychological reality in the United States and in many parts of the diaspora.” Rheeda Walker PHD. Her book is more than a self-help, it encourages us to dig deep to redeem and reshape our whole self. As stated in the title, the book is unapologetic and gives us clear and intentional words and tools to promote a healthier mental state of being. Not by just by reading but a guild on how to do; simple and clear concepts we can apply to our lives. You’ll find in this book The importance of community, How to recognize Threats to your emotional health, Suicide, how are your diet affects your mental health, and so much more!
The further along I read into the book, the more I realize that it was not just a book that could help me, it is a source of information and inspiration for so many people that also look like me. Blacks, African-American people or Biracial, Those who are and can relate to the feelings of sadness, helplessness, anger, and injustice that Valerie had when she witnessed George Floyd’s Death.
I understand Black people to be triumph! This will not remain a major concern in our communities as community is a critical part of balancing good mental health. Find practices that help you.
In recent years, mental health organizations and advocates have made a concerted effort to attract Black clientele—creating directories of providers of color, launching mental health apps, and establishing foundations to ensure that African Americans have access to the resources needed to prioritize their psychological well-being... verywellmind