What if my 7th grade guidance counselor had taken me serious when I went to her with thoughts of suicide and stories of abuse?
What if my family had understood that my “acting out” was a sign of trauma and impending mental illness?
What if I had began mental health therapy when I asked for it at the age of 13 or again at 16?
Truth is, in the black community, mental health issues are often believed they can be treated if we just prayed them away. Excessive sleeping is perceived as lazy. Defiance is presented as being dramatic. Isolation is often seen as weird. Aggression interpreted as attention-seeking.
What if, when signs are presented, we paid more attention to those presenting them? Mental illness is often invisible but the signs are still there.
From my own experience, not as a mental health professional, here are 8 ways you can support your family members and friends when mental health presents itself:
- Listen. Sometimes people suffering just need to vent in order to release their pain. It’s not always personal but they need someone to at least hear them.
- Allow them space to process their pain. If the daily calls have stopped, send them a message just to say “Whatever you’re dealing with, I support you. I’m here if you need to talk.” You don’t have to know everything they’re dealing with to show your support. However, when they call, be available.
- If your college student comes home and all they want to do is sleep, let them. Then talk to them. This is a sign of depression and it shouldn’t be ignored. Maybe they need a lighter school load or perhaps take some time away from school in order to heal. When they are better, they can always return to school and accomplish those same goals.
- Consider family therapy if your young child or young adult is showing signs of illness. This is a time to understand their pain and work together to overcome it.
- Encourage them to seek counseling in the form of a trusted mental health professional. Sure, you can ask the pastor to pray over them but prayer just isn’t enough. Getting to the root of a problem involves more than masking it by “laying hands”.
- Believe them. If someone is telling you they are hurting, there’s a reason. You don’t have to understand someone to believe them. Their pain and their story is theirs, whether you understand it or not.
- Acknowledge when they are being irrational or showing changed behaviors. If someone has shown dramatic changes, again, it’s probably not personal. Be the peace in their lives in that particular moment.
- Don’t pile your shit or more shit on them. Chances are, you probably haven’t listened to their story so you piling more on them is selfish and inconsiderate. Do better.
I don’t have all the answers for dealing with mental health. I do know that people are hurting and they aren’t being heard. Generation after generation we’ve been told we’re “just crazy” and have been taught not to speak of our pain so that we don’t cause embarrassment or bring shame. We’ve been raised to wear a mask because removing it would expose others.
The one answer I DO have is to remove the mask. There is someone out there that will listen to your story and, if you’re that person, listen without judgement. Your support can make a difference in either saving a life or in limiting a lifetime of suffering.
** Organizations that support families dealing with mental health:
** Disclaimer: I am not a Mental Health Professional. I am an advocate for mental health and I tell stories from experience, while advocating for self love and self care. If you are or know someone who is struggling, please seek a mental health professional to deal with your illness.