Mental Health- Through a Different Lense
Black Lives Matter. A movement that has been around since 2013 but in light of George Floyd's murder at the hands of the police this year, the movement reached its tipping point after years of oppression. Being a person of color, specifically Black, being seen as a threat to people because of your skin color is something that I can never understand. But given that I have a platform as a mental health blogger, I want to give you a narrative from 4 young Black women I interviewed and their experiences. Although I will never truly understand what it means to be placed in their shoes, it really gives me a different perspective and to take the time out of my day to listen to my Black peers. Please keep in mind, this is told from my perspective/understanding of their words...so I encourage you all to reach out to these beautiful ladies yourselves and take the time to hear their stories personally. There is nothing I can say (or write) that will do justice to their experiences, however it is a good forum for me to soak in the stories I was told.
I talked to 4 Black women (my mutuals) and had the chance to have a candid conversation. I am truly grateful to know them and for them to be so genuine, vulnerable and open with me. We had some very interesting and insightful conversations. Here are their thoughts/comments and told through my lense:
Astha: "How are you doing mentally"
"I feel like I don't have many people to relate with me and it's sometimes hard to find a solid community" (Nikayla)
"It felt good to have a sense of community and use my energy into something good... I felt like I was using my anger, and pain into something constructive and use social media to empower others and myself" (Imani)
"When the protests started, I felt very disheartened and drained...I had to take time for myself to take a step back and heal...we can sometimes unintentionally harm ourselves by being over-involved and end up doing more harm than good" (Ismahaan)
"I've always been aware of the oppression that Black people face, but as soon as George Floyd's death started circulating on social media, my mental health plummeted" (Fadum0)
Astha; "How has being a woman of color impacted your mental health, how did it change your view of yourself?"
"Where I lived, there were no counselors or nurses in schools especially for the people that studied there. In those schools, there were a lot of people that needed it which meant those were the kids that would probably end up having depression, suicidal thoughts, and then grow up more likely to commit crimes. "At 16 I dropped out because I felt like I didn’t belong" Our parents are always so busy trying to earn for our families...I felt like I was alone all the time and had to grow up myself. I feel alone, and suffer from Depression because of it...I never had the opportunity to express myself or let go of my trauma" (Nikayla)
"I felt super targeted and didn’t feel like I would be taken seriously. If I went to school, staff members made me just bottle feelings up and make it worse...It's crazy what we cary with us and how much it can effect our mental health. I dealt with being called the n-word and being body-shamed but it was almost as if I was dismissed and I wasn't in an environment that didn't support me as much as it should have" (Imani)
Astha: "Do you think your mental health is well supported among your community?"
"Certain Black communities stigmatize Black mental health a lot and certain communities just have the pressure of a lot of toxic masculinity" (Nikayla)
Mental health resources at my school weren't well-supported or even talked about. On top of that, most of the people that could help were all white women so it was hard to find a sense of community" (Fadumo)
"In Senegal culture, it's considered that we are the people that take away other people's pain so it seemed far fetched that we would be the ones to have mental health issues...talking about mental health with my immigrant parents made it seem like it was their fault or that I was shaming the way they raised us...The fact that this topic wasn't supported affected my mental health" (Imani)
"No. It's very taboo to talk about mental health in the Somali community. It’s considered bad spirits, and ruins the reputation of their families. It was always considered to be a result of not praying enough. So people were invalidated because of their mental health issues and given the excuse that they didn't pray enough...Back home, people are so focused on staying alive during the country's unrest, mental health wasn't a priority" (Ismahaan)
Astha: "If you could give younger-you or another younger Black child advice, what would you want them/you to know?"
I want to tell Black youth to find the joy. There is always going to be something wrong/happening, we have endured so much trauma both in person and online but it is so important to find joy in the little things...Do whatever makes you happy. You can always recreate yourself as many times as you want to" (Ismahaan)
I think we’re believed a lot less and invalidated a lot more. If I was told that my feelings matter and they are valid, I would’ve looked at things a lot differently...and for parents: know that the problems that your child goes through isn’t always reflective of the way that you have raised them or doesn’t always make you a bad parent" (Imani)
“If I could talk to my younger self and tell her that I would have support growing up, I would be shocked too" (Nikayla)
"There is ALWAYS something you can do" (Fadumo)
Astha: "How do you feel in regards to the recent events of the BLM movement and non-Black allies supporting the cause?"
"Its tiring trying to explain racism to other people because not everyone has gone through it...It’s so frustrating to be told that now we have the same opportunities as white people right now because we took a completely different path to get here. (Nikayla)
Non-Black POC should be holding their racist friends accountable and sometimes it can be hard to drop friends, but you should hold people accountable...Anti-blackness is everywhere and we have to choose to be apart of it or against it" (Fadumo)
When I was in the city [i grew up in,Minneapolis], activism was more accessible as such because I always had opportunities to get involved easily, but being away, it made me make more intentional and active efforts to get involved. If you truly care about something, you're going to try and do something to change it" (Ismahaan)
"There is a boundary between having to explain yourself of educating others or to just keep arguing to an empty wall...However, I see a lot of growth in talking to people who have different views than me" (Imani)
Let's unpack a little bit of what we just read here. It is so powerful to hear their stories and to share a small fraction of their grief with them. By talking to Nikayla, Fadumo, Imani, and Ismahaan, I learned so much about how even while being a POC...my experience is so different than theirs. It made me realize how you can be a POC or minority and still be privileged. One thing that really stood out to me is the similarities between these 4 individuals. Mental health is unique in that everyone experiences it differently and copes differently. But what I was disheartened to read is the lack of community they all mentioned. Allies need to do better. Schools need to do better. We as a community need to be better. Reach out to your BIPOC friends and ask them how you can help nurture their growth as people. There is strength in community. And one of the biggest things I realized through these conversations is: even if you don't relate, you can still understand. Sometimes all it takes is just offering an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. Black mental health matters. Black minds matter. And they deserve to be emotionally and physically supported. Again, the above quotes/messages are all quoted from my notes during the conversation and are in no way equivalent to hearing their stories first hand. I have included their information below, please follow them, support them on their endeavors and witness them do amazing things!
Meet the Interviewees:
Instagram Handle: @ismahanaye
Thank you for being so open with me, for being so kind. You have a good spirit and your energy always seems to make me calm and happy. My favorite thing you said during our interview was "you can always recreate yourself" and I will remember that and carry it with me. The work that you do for your community, speaking out in the model industry about racism and colorism is commendable and I am inspired by your drive to outreach to people. Thank you for your time, your smile, and your light.
Thank you for being my very first interview! It was so lovely to meet you through protests and I am so proud of the work you're doing. Your strength, empowerment and dedication is beyond words. I remember when you told me that you cry when you talk about your experiences but you get stronger every time...first off, thank you for sharing that with me. And second, I've got to witness you speak at and organize the Kirkland Day to Learn and I can truly say that you spoke beautifully and your passion and willingness to put yourself out there to make change speaks a lot about your character. So thank you for being such a power figure!
Non-profit: Movement of Advocacy
You are such a source for positivity! Every time I speak to you you always ask me how I am, how i'm doing and always seem so inviting, Thank you for talking to me for this project and being so involved and checking up on me when I felt overwhelmed. I appreciate all the work you do for being a spokesperson for the Black Muslim community. Your efforts and your work is noticed and valued. Thank you for shining light wherever you go!
This was my first time speaking to you directly and your energy immediately made me feel like I've known you forever. You have such a friendly presence and I loved the way we connected instantly. You are so kind, so mature, and so fun! Right after our call ended, I remember thinking to myself "she would be such a good friend" and I was right. Thanks for having such a candid and relaxed conversation with me. I am so happy I got to get to know you more and do this with you.
Thank you for reading, engaging, and learning. I hope you this gave you just a small glimpse into their stories and their lived experiences. Just by reading this, you have taken a small step in the path to listening and amplifying Black voices. There are many more stories like these, waiting to be heard and waiting to be acknowledged. So reach out to your Black peers, check in with them and ask them how they're doing, listen to their experiences and simply...be present. Be intentional about the work that you do for the BLM movement both on and off social media. And allies...we must continue to do what we are doing and continue to do better. Wishing you all love and solidarity,
August 15th 2020