BWD – Black While Depressed, A Mask of Shame

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With the holiday season beginning, I am reminded of the other side of emotions. Not the happy, jovial, fun-loving things that are often seen. I’m reminded of the what is behind many masks worn. There are few things more shameful in many communities that going to see a “shrink”. That must mean you’re crazy, right?! I guess. I don’t know. I don’t think I was crazy when I went, but might have felt like I was going to go there. See, I’ve dealt silently with episodes of depression and difficulties with adjustment since I was 14- years old. When my mother completed graduate school we moved from Kent, Ohio to Lakeland, Florida. Did I want to go? Yes, was it easy? Not by a long shot. There were terribly dark days for me and I’m not sure how my Mother handled them. I didn’t know how to handle them either. I spent time in my room, uninterested in some activities, and often arguing with my Mother or giving her the silent treatment while missing home. I didn’t have anyone to tell how I felt, and I took to self-injury. What is that?

Me (1990)

Me (1990)

Well, for me it was burning myself. I’m slightly embarrassed to say it because “Black people don’t do that”. Well, uhm, this one did and I’m sure I’m not the first. It dulled the true pain of feeling isolated and not having anyone who understood. I couldn’t tell my Mom, my sister, or speak to anyone at church. Bouts of depression became a semi-regular occurrence for me. I remember the same feelings off and on in college, no matter where I lived. And, then, like a gun going off, a trigger was pulled.

In 2002, my mother died from lung cancer I often felt like I had a dark cloud over me. I couldn’t catch my breath sometimes. I would cry. I had previously been in ministry at a local church teaching Sundays school, I had a class with teen girls for youth church; I sang in the mass choir, young adult choir, and was a part of the praise team, but those things didn’t make me immune. I wish they had. During that time, speaking with other ministers and pastors I was told to “pray”, that “God knows best”, “keep on keeping on”, and to “be strong” but nothing addressed my spiraling depression. I remember telling my sister that I just wanted to “disappear” and “go somewhere that no one could find me”. After saying that I didn’t speak to her for about a week and she became concerned, found me, and I explained that it was really because of work not because I was planning my great escape. I spent the next 10 years in and of depression which impacted my son, my relationship with my boyfriend at the time, my perception of me, and simply created a serious storm.

Fast forward to 2012, I was two years into graduate school at Walden University for mental health counseling and taking two classes: Group Process and Dynamics, and Prevention, Intervention, and Consultation. We are charged with choosing a population and issue to create a project around. For the first time, I had no idea and that was the story for two weeks, until I realized I needed to use a group and issue of which I was passionate: Women of Color and Depression. Specifically, Black women and depression became my focus. And, boy, what I researched in 12-weeks was nothing short of exciting. Not because it was all good news, but information that helped me. I found out that depression occurs in approximately 12 million women in the United States each year and that depressive symptoms are experience at a greater rate by African American women than  our Caucasian counterparts. According to Warren (1997) approximately 20%-30% of African-American females are familiar with depressive symptoms. Familiar, but apparently don’t talk about them.

Why not? Good question. Here are few things that continue to keep African-American woman from seeking treatment.

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Mental Health American (2012) cites that denial, embarrassment or shame, a refusal to get help, lack of financial ability or insurance, fear, lack of knowledge of treatment or the problem, and hopelessness are barriers to treatment for African-Americans as a population. Yet, Nicolaidis et al. (2010) found that African American women do not seek treatment due to nine factors: 1) self-esteem, 2) lack of social supports, 3) stressful life events, 4) lack of education about depression and/or grief, 5) programs being presented by people who are not African-American, 6) interventions that use drugs for treatment, 7) doubt about the “White” health care system, 8) intergenerational information about mental health services, and 9) the belief that they must be a “strong Black woman”. That “strong Black woman” thing has many women sick, remaining depressed, and in danger of other health conditions. Now, does that make sense? Not to me. Neither does the perception of many people of what it is to be depressed or in need of mental health services.

Though I wore a good mask, I did seek what I thought to be “wise counsel” in my community of faith. However, when that was not fruitful, my participation dwindled until I left. We have to understand that faith-based community leaders are crucial to the process of helping women in this area because they are often aware of the issues a person is having, are in communication with families, and have the to opportunity to refer out to effective providers (Payne, 2009). At the same time, faith-based leaders are often not aware of signs of depression, anxiety, or grief. They may be more likely to attribute mental health concerns with a lack of faith, not praying enough, and to spiritual weakness than to biology (Payne, 2009). This can further harm a person who is depressed. I was told to “pray and fast” and when things did not change I wondered whether I prayed right, fasted long enough, and what was wrong with me. Considering that many African-American women are affiliated with some faith community, including this community is imperative in opening a much needed dialogue.

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Here we are with the holiday season upon us, and depressive symptoms or depression may rear its head. You my already be dealing with depression, anxiety, or both. And wondering what to do. What did I do? I went to see a counselor in 2012, I sat and poured my heart out, I was embarrassed, nervous, annoyed, uncomfortable, and, then, freed. I started working out, riding my bike, eating differently, and lost 50 pounds because I fasted for 40 days. Am I saying to do what I did? Not all of it, but I am saying there is no shame in taking off the mask and seeing a counselor. The veil of shame has no place in your life, and only serves to keep you from living the life you deserve. The life that you dream about in your wildest dreams.

Below is a video I created from that project. I am not doing the groups this year, but the information remains relevant. If you or someone you know needs help with depression contact a counselor. Do you need assistance with grief recovery? Leave me a message by going to the Contact Me page or go to The Grief Recovery Institute site. I’ve been trained in their methods as well and would be happy to assist you. If you have any comments please leave them below.

Resource

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Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison gives us a way of understanding our depression which matches our experience and which enables us to take charge of our life and change it. Dorothy Rowe shows us that depression is not an illness or a mental disorder but a defense against pain and fear, which we can use whenever we suffer a disaster and discover that our life is not what we thought it was. Depression is an unwanted consequence of how we see ourselves and the world. By understanding how we have interpreted events in our life we can choose to change our interpretations and thus create for ourselves a happier, more fulfilling life. Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison is for depressed people, their family and friends, and for all professionals and non-professionals who work with depressed people.

Click the book above and you can order it from Alibris for as low as $1.18.

References

Mental Health American. (2012). Depression in Women. In Mental Health America. Retrieved on October 11, 2012 from http://www.nmha.org/index.cfm?objectid=C7DF952E-1372-4D20-C8A3DDCD5459D07B.

Nicolaidis, C., Timmons, V., Thomas, M., Waters, A., Wahab, S., Mejia, A., & Mitchell, S. (2010). ‘You don’t go tell White people nothing’: African American women’s perspectives on the influence of violence and race on depression and depression care. American Journal of Public Health, 100(8), 1470-1476. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.161950

Payne, J. (2009). Variations in pastors’ perceptions of the etiology of depression by race and religious affiliation. Community Mental Health Journal, 45(5), 355-365. doi:10.1007/s10597-009-9210-y

Warren, B.J. (1997). Depression, stressful life events, social support, and self-esteem in middle class african American women. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 11(3), 107-117.

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