What does it mean to be black and have a mental illness?

Many are having conversations around being black and what that means to them. Some are just realizing what it is like to live as a black person. Some are seeing their black friends or family in a new light. Often black people mention that we cannot take our blackness off at the end of the day. It influences every single aspect of our lives and that includes our mental health. Many of us were not granted the privilege to even address our mental health. The current revolution has opened Pandora’s box in terms of what black people experience every day in their lives whether it’s microaggressions or stigma within their own community. This post is about the intricacies of black mental health and what that means.

Being black and having a mental illness means:

Having parents who do not believe black people can have a mental illness (that’s for white people)

Not being able to tell any family outside of your immediate family that you have a mental illness (due to family dynamics, gossip or stigma)

Having a mental illness that may never be diagnosed due to the above

Suffering in silence

Not getting the chance to find the right medications that could help you drastically because you weren’t diagnosed in the first place*

Trying to be that model immigrant (which means no mental illness for you!)

Being under a lot of pressure because your parents immigrated here & to them they provided safety, food and shelter for you to succeed. “What are you depressed or anxious about?”

Having family who believe there are spirits or voodoo causing your mental illness

Having that aunt or uncle who likely has a mental illness but we brush off, “Oh you know that’s Auntie Molly, it’s nothing, don’t worry about her.”

Not having access to mental health professionals who look like you which includes therapists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, psychologists; the list continues

Never feeling comfortable enough to talk about the black part of yourself & your life in therapy with a non-POC

Being scared to bring up the topic of blackness during therapy because you worry your non-POC therapist might feel uncomfortable

Having to “code switch” or explain all black terms or details when you first mention them because your story needs context

Going to emergency and not seeing one face like yours

Marlon Schmeiski, Pexels.com

Having the stereotype of a strong black woman or man that you have to live up to and if you don’t you’re weak or not a man

Not being allowed to cry or express your emotions or talk about your feelings

Figuring out as an adult that you did/do have a mental illness and coming to terms with the time wasted not knowing that fact

Dealing with intergenerational trauma on a psychological level and what that means for your mental illness

Being raised by parents who never dealt with their own mental illness

Never finishing high school or university or college

Never being able to keep a job because your mental illness was never diagnosed & you haven’t learned how to cope

“Being black with a mental illness means having parents who do not believe black people can have a mental illness (that’s for white people).”

There is so much to unpack here, you could honestly spend years studying and adding to all of the above and some people do! And some of them have implications I did not mention which lead to even poorer mental health. We also have to consider how systemic racism and microaggressions impact our lives, our feelings and therefore our mental & physical health.

It’s not all pain and suffering, being black is a glorious thing which is hard to capture in words. Next post I will focus on all the good that comes with being black and having a mental illness. Please note all of the above does not happen to every single black person, it is a case to case situation, we do not all live the same life; another good thing to note when examining your presumptions about black people. Some of these situations have happened to me but I need a whole other blog post to discuss those moments in my life. It’s coming soon. I promise.

Before you run off to your life and all that is happening in our world right now, the first piece of information I cannot emphasize enough is how important naming something is. It gives you freedom. It gives you power. It gives you patience with yourself and others. And it allows you to practice self-love.

My second piece of information for you today is knowledge is power. Equip yourself with mental health information and spread that across our community starting with your friends and your family.

Love you all.

Stay safe & stay well.

*It can take years to find the right medication and it requires support, coping tools and more, the sooner you start the faster you might find one that helps.

Resources I love:

Hill Studio

“Meditation, breathing exercise, conversations, calming music and soulful yoga flows to soothe and restore your mind, body and soul. Led by Black Wellness Practitioners to address the needs of the Black Community. Open to all members of the Black Community. All Genders welcome.”

Therapy for Black Girls

“So often the stigma surrounding mental health issues and therapy prevents Black women from taking the step of seeing a therapist. This space was developed to present mental health topics in a way that feels more accessible and relevant.”

8 Black Mental Health Resources in Canada and Online

“These organizations focused on the mental health and well-being of Black communities can offer some much-needed support right now.”

Read about my book here. Coming this summer!

Read “Why I wrote A Hidden Life” here.

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Content on this website may be triggering, please call 911 or go to the nearest hospital if you feel you are in a mental health crisis.


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