Mental health. It is one of those subjects that few really want to talk about. What is even more surprising is the profile of those who do talk about it and those who do not. Those who really need to be more aware and informed on the issues related to mental health are the ones most resistant to having a conversation on the topic.
Personal Mental Health Journey
My first conversation about my own mental health came about in 2006. There were signs long before indicating that there were many challenges with my mental health.
Without casting blame or make excuses, much of my personal challenges began long before I could even spell the word ‘mental’. The only talk that I heard about ‘something’ was overhearing my mother chatting with others. She would reference one of her sisters, saying she had “a plate inna har head.” Later, I would come to understand that my aunt was badly beaten. Her assailant, who I believe was an intimate partner, chopped her head open. To save her life, the doctors put a “plate” in her head. They concluded that my aunt was “mad” as a result of the injury and the plate “inna” her head.
Mental Health Awareness
My family and I migrated to Canada in 2002. My intimate relationship collapsed four years later. The gravity of “madness” and how quickly it can overcome a person became completely understandable to me.
Yes, I am a highly educated woman. However, that was book learning and in subjects having to do with international law and relations, history, languages and politics. Before migrating, over my years of studies did I take a course in any subject related to mental health.
An ironic thing would soon happen upon migrating. In the midst of pursuing my chaplaincy training in 2006, that was when my spiral into “madness” began.
Mad, Crazy or Simply Wounded?
It is a long story and one that does not require recounting here. Suffice it to say that as my long-crumbling relationship finally collapsed so too did my acuity.
After two trips to the Emergency Room in the back of an ambulance, the choices were clear. One option was to willing go into counselling/therapy. The other was to be committed to preventing any further attempts at self-harm.
My choice was clear and with great reluctance the search began for a board-certified psychologist who would understand how culture and race bar someone like me from willing seeking out and entering into therapy.
Black People Don’t Do Therapy
Through my healing process, one that included psychological counselling for close to a year, medication for year (I vehemently declined to stay on them for any longer than that) and spiritual counselling, by 2011 I was ready to live again.
We have shared before that people of colour, particularly those in the Afro-community, do not embrace counselling. Further, it is not a tool of first resort for society when dealing with the issues that this community face. For centuries, through slavery to today, black people, in particular, have been subjected to discriminatory and outright racist treatments. We have borne the shame that others have thrown at us. Unwilling to surrender, black women in particular, have had to be strong not just for themselves but for the entire community – men and children.
A Month Is Not Enough
Recently, the burden of responsibility and the revelation of things previously unbeknownst to me have caused me great angst. Thankfully, might I say, having travelled the road of the clinically depressed, I am able to recognize when the slope is getting slippery.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought me the opportunity, and yes I am purposely naming it as such, to be home for the most part. Being home has allowed me, with the support of close friends who I trust and with the tools that I learned almost 14 years ago, to ride out this storm.
This month of October is observed as Mental Health Awareness Month in Canada. As someone who has benefitted from the support and work of those in the field and as someone who in turn was trained and provided support to others, a month is not enough.
What many are facing today with economic and social challenges brought on by the pandemic, there needs to be more targeted interventions for those who under normal circumstances fall through the crack. This time is teaching us to reach out, pick up the phone, be in touch with family, friends, acquaintances – anyone you have a telephone number for.
Isolating and social distancing does not mean abandoning. Now is the time to connect.
Let that be the real lesson of this year’s observation of this special month. Watch my quick message yesterday on this very issue of mental health awareness.
Peace and Love,