By Shada Ratliff
“Be Strong! Be Different! Stand out! Boys don’t cry! Black Girl’s Magic! Black Power!” For generations, we’ve been forced to believe that because of our skin complexion and background, we are not allowed to be Human! We must be strong when faced with adversity. We must be at a certain place in our lives by 30! We cannot be broken. Well, I’ll be the first to admit I am not always strong. I have faced some challenges that weren’t always the easiest. I get weak and do not have my life completely figured out YET! It’s Unrealistic to think that life cannot have its struggles and cause us to fall short too.
When I first started in the mental health field, I had never heard of some diagnoses: ADHD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, or Depression. However, after studying and understanding them, I realized that I’ve had first-hand encounters with nearly each throughout my life. It was at that moment I began to see the CRACKS in our culture. Growing up, such diagnoses or even trauma were healed with a bandage or some rubbing alcohol because we had yet to accept that we could possibly be broken.
However, Mental illness isn’t anything to be ashamed of, yet so many of us are. Or there is this negative stigma attached due to our ignorance of mental health. (Ignorance: Noun. lack of knowledge or information.) Imagine falling, breaking your neck, and never getting the proper treatment or medication. It could potentially result in paralysis or, worse, death. The mindset of seeking treatment for mental health should be just as important.
We’ve been forced to believe that talking about our mental health is a sign of weakness. “What happens in this house stays in this house.” But What if sexual abuse is happening in THIS house, domestic violence, suicidal thoughts, etc.? Do we remain silent? We cannot let fear and discomfort get in the way of obtaining the help we need. We all need help. Considering what we have endured as a race and the adversities we consistently face today, we are the most vulnerable to suffering from trauma and other psychological distress.
Many of you reading this article are battling with your own adversity. Who can you talk to? Do you have adequate tools to positively cope with your emotions? Or have you found yourself pretending to have it all together because you refuse to let your guard down, to be vulnerable, to be broken? We all are trying to uphold the title “The Strong ONE,” the strong friend, the dependable child. Speaking from experience, it’s not always so simple. Even the strongest get weak. True strength is acknowledging our struggles, speaking up, and seeking help.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with several high schoolers on the topic of suicide and depression after the tragic passing of one of their classmates. Many of them had no idea how to process what had occurred. I engaged them in an icebreaker in which they were given a statement, and if they could relate to the statement, they were asked to sit down. My first statement for each class was, ” If you’ve felt alone or had no one to depend on, please take a seat.” More than half of the students sat down. By statement three, the majority, if not all, were in their seats.
I wanted to demonstrate to them how common suicidal and depressed emotions are in all of us. I wanted them to see how they had felt alone a time or two before. Once done, I asked them who they rely on for support when such feelings arise. Many stated their parents, teachers, and friends. No surprise there. But what took me was how often I heard, ” I rely on MYSELF.”
Just like those high school students, many of us shut ourselves off from others when we go through things for many reasons. But how does that help, Us? How can broken me, help broken me? One of my counterparts uses the analogy of shaking a sprite bottle up. What happens when we attempt to open the bottle? It explodes! For this reason and others, we see a higher rate of alcoholism, drug abuse, and other negative coping strategies to numb or decrease the pain we feel inside. These and other temporary solutions will not resolve our problems, and they surely aren’t the answer to addressing our hurt. Yet, many of us rather engage in such behaviors than seek professional help.
So yeah, BLACK DOES CRACK! But when we do, it’s okay because we are powerful and strong. Strong Black girls definitely exist, and black men are indeed the strongest. But can we show our strength by doing more than sticking a bandage over it? Let’s get the right treatment and help ourselves THE RIGHT WAY! If you or anyone you know suffers from mental health issues, don’t hesitate to contact your local mental agency.
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline- 988
U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
Marion Counseling Services: 601-956-4816
(Mental health Service Provider for Coahoma County, Quitman County, Bolivar County, Sunflower County, Yazoo County, and Hinds County)