Understanding mental illness

Kristina Agbebiyi

Due to recent events like Ferguson, police brutality has been at the forefront of Black America’s mind and with good reason. However, I’m here to talk about another silent killer within the black community: mental illness. As a black woman growing up, it has always been assumed that mental illness was: 1. A white people problem and 2. something not to be discussed. I’m a black woman living with mental illness. It doesn’t define every aspect of me, but I am also 100 percent not ashamed.

Many people are unable to get the help they need until college because of the stigma that surround mental illness. Why do these exist when black adults are 20% more likely to report psychological distress than their white counterparts? Because of the stereotype that black woman are inherently mentally and emotionally strong. What if we don’t want to be strong? What if we don’t want to have it all together? This stereotype can often lead to feelings of guilt and selfishness whenever trying to get help that is desperately needed.

One issue that can prevent people from receiving help is the idea that mental illness indicates lack of faith. Focusing on only the black church isn’t helping anyone. People often can’t just “pray the depression away.” Insensitive comments about “white” celebrities or students who have killed themselves only alienates people, and prevents them from coming to you if they ever need help. Other statements like “I’ve experienced xyz and I’ve never gotten depressed” are extremely harmful.

It’s awesome that you were able to get through all of that, but there are other people who are suffering out here. Another misconception is that depression automatically has to come from some life-changing, earth-shattering event. Some people are just depressed because of hereditary reasons or a chemical imbalance in the brain. The only time when mental illness can be destigmatized is when it is treated with the same respect that other diseases have. You wouldn’t blame someone for their cancer right? So don’t blame people for their mental illness.

Kristina Agbebiyi is a junior health education and promotion major.