For years, the black community has been ambivalent when it comes to mental health. Just as we neglect our physical health, men and women alike have ignored and outright refused proper clinical treatment for a myriad of conditions that deal with the mind. If you ask me, relationships (or lack thereof) is the last thing our community needs to consume themselves with.
Generationally, it’s been embedded in us to hold things in. Men seldom cry, women hold their heads high. We’ve told ourselves for decades to never let “the man” see that he’s found victory over us. Many see Denzel Washington’s single tear in Glory as a testament to the willful emotional strength of a black man. When it comes to most memorable movie moments, that scene is always in my top 10 to explain the quiet anguish men experience. Suffering in silence is one innate ability that the black community has held in esteem. It’s like the tougher you are, the more people respect and admire you. But what that internalized pain does to our psyche is pandemic and tragic.
One case I’d like to mention to demonstrate our lackadaisical approach to treatment and therapeutic support is the emotional turmoil of actress Maia Campbell.
We remember her from her role as Tiffany on “In The House”. While on the show, she also appeared in a few obligatory magazine layouts. I mean, she was a beautiful young woman. But no one really knew behind the scenes, she was battling the debilitating mental disease, bipolar schizophrenia. The death of her mother, author Bebe Moore Campbell, seemed to have a profound effect on Campbell as she turned the drugs and sex as her coping mechanisms. People laughed and made jokes when a video of Maia Campbell strung out on illicit drugs and selling her body surfaced. They laughed out of pure meanness, but some people laughed out of discomfort. Because Maia represents a mother/sister/cousin/aunt/daughter that we know needs help. The problem is when we see someone we love embattled the way we watched Campbell struggle, we honestly feels helpless. Where do you begin? How do you tell someone that’s mentally troubled “yo you need to talk to somebody”.
I myself have started going to therapy. The last 12 months have been in such a disarray for me and my family. I moved across the ocean, came back to my father’s failing health, buried my father, moved to New Jersey, fell out with my only sister, and then buried my sister. I don’t share that for sympathy or pity. My issues are in no way more troubling than yours. I say all of that to show that the strongest of men will reach their breaking point. And when that breaking point is reach, you need to have a safety net in place to keep you from truly falling. For some, it’s their faith. For some it’s a close knit family and trustworthy friends. However, even those resources will fail you.
For years, we as a collective have cried victim and foul for every hurt we’ve endured. Instead of talking those problems out, we’ve turned to self-degradation or lashing out at others. White people go to therapists the same way they’d go to a family doctor. To them there’s no stigma to asking for help when life just gets hard as hell. For us though, I think part of the stigma is we often think that our struggles are something new; we keep people at bay by telling ourselves that they don’t understand. The realization that I and others have to come to is that it’s not peoples’ job to understand our walk through life. All they have to do is give a damn.
Have you ever considered therapy? Would you ever intervene or suggest that a close relative see a therapist? Why do you think the black community still scoffs at the concept of psychological illnesses?