Our Children. Our Community.

The most recent articles on MYPOLARLIFE have implied a focus on adults, but I shift the focus toward children in this article because mental health starts much earlier than as an adult who has been diagnosed as depressed. In fact, preventative measures should be taken as early as possible. We should be talking to our kids about how they feel emotionally in the same ways we address their tummy aches. It is never really too early to instill healthy dialogue about mental health, especially among children who have faced traumatic situations. Even more, we have to break away from dialogue that minimizes an individual’s personal experiences.


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Mental health influences a child’s ability to function in the world—their world—namely their interactions at home with family, at school with friends, and their overall ability to succeed in those realms that occupy all of their time. To be sure, we have to understand the ways in which mental health influences physical health and the reverse. The American Psychology Association provides a prime example of the ways in which the two work together:

“An overweight young boy who is teased about his weight may withdraw socially and become depressed and may be reluctant to play with others or exercise, which further contributes to his poorer physical health and as a result poorer mental health.”

This example may be one that we are all actually familiar with, if not by our own understanding then by that of a relative or friend. In my own experience, I am usually in better spirits when I am active, and I have learned to go outside or go to the gym or to do some yoga when I am feeling down. And though medication may be necessary and encouraged for some, others may simple need to play an active game at the park after sitting down at a school desk for most of the day. The APA emphasizes that ignoring this mental-physical relationship can lead to problems down the road as an adult, so addressing mental health early is essential for overall health, wellness, safety, and productivity later in life.

Like the previous articles have mentioned, mental health is often about access. All of our children need access to engaging mental health resources within their communities that allow a safe space to talk about what they may be experiencing. However, not all children are afforded these opportunities through their schools and community health centers. Particularly children in underserved communities lack these resources, and the lack of facilities is contributing to a growing problem among young people of color. While, historically, suicide rates have been higher for white people in all age groups in the United States, JAMA Pediatrics offers data that confirms that the suicide rates for black children ages 5 to 12 exceeds that of white children by almost double. So we need to be sure that all children are given the opportunity to communicate their experiences in a healthy way. We need to encourage our schools to offer services, we need to fight for mental health within community centers and hospitals that our children attend, and we need to ask for psychological assessments and assistance among private practices through programs that provide other free health benefits for communities in need.


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Discussions of mental health primarily revolve around white people. Specifically, white men. Recent mass shootings have been performed by white men and have brought to news outlets a conversation about the terrorist’s mental state. While these white men may, in fact, suffer from some mental disorder, they are usually the ones who receive support in the form of mental health options compared to the rest of the population. They can use mental instability as an escape for their actions. People of color are rarely granted this escape or support.

To be sure, America’s white population can visit discussions about mental instability regularly, and they generally have access to healthy solutions prior to the development of severe mental problems. Further, doctors believe and trust white patients’ translations of their experiences. They are validated in most cases. This is not true for people of color. And while we realize that mental illness does not have a look, we want to acknowledge that some groups get left out of the conversation completely, invalidating their mental illnesses, ultimately subjecting them to more danger, further disempowering them.

 Like many people with mental illness, some black women will slowly turn to self-medication, but this temporary solution is a product of shame shared among communities of color. Black women should feel empowered to take good care of themselves first so that they are able to take care of those that they love, and that starts with a stable mental state. They need the space to start cutting through stigmas, and it is important to find the right resources within their communities that will assist in advocating for themselves even in places of socioeconomic disadvantage and poor treatment from authorities. How can black women navigate their mental health from a position that is constantly being devalued by American society, affecting the way she sees herself? How does it alter her sense of mental security?

Black women are disproportionately affected by mental illness. Holden et. al. explains that black women suffer from depression and PTSD at exceptionally high rates due to their exposure to trauma. Trauma varies from woman to woman and is more severe for economically disadvantaged women, but what makes the case of black women unique, according to Holden et. al. is that mental illnesses like depression are invisible, misdiagnosed, underdiagnosed, or ineptly treated. Only 7.6 percent of black women sought treatment in 2011 compared to the 13.6 percent of the general population. Even more, trauma for black women takes shape in devastatingly tangible ways. According to the New York Times Magazine infant mortality rates are highest among black infants because of the stress and weathering the mother experiences not only during pregnancy but also long before she conceives a child. “Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies,” NYTimes Magazine show, highlighting that this difference is “a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel.” Systemic racism permanently alters the black woman’s body and her ability to carry her child to term, and while the affects of racism change the state of her mental health, the loss of her child is a kind of trauma that creates irrevocable mental damage, especially if not treated professionally.

George Yancy, in Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly About Racism in America, explains that “to be black in America is to be always already known, and white people assume that they know everything about [us].” So we spend much of our time trying to dismantle the knowing, and then spend time trying to recreate a new knowledge about black identity, about blackness, learning in the end, that it doesn’t really matter how much work we put into changing the minds of those who think they know us. The damage is already done. That constant constructing and reconstructing and deconstructing eventually takes a toll on our mental state, and without knowing how far gone we already are because of this multi-consciousness, we’ve become accustomed to the mental instability. It becomes a part of who we are—we are mother, friend, daughter, lover, co-worker, wife, and sister—and we hold the weight of keeping our children, parents, husbands, wives, and siblings in tact while feeling the real pressure of wanting to be who we are despite how the world labels us.

Everyone deserves to have access to ways in managing their own mental illnesses, but systemic racism does not actually allow that possibility for everyone. We must start with acknowledging, educating, and being open to the fact that psychological problems exist for people of color in the same ways that it exists for white people.  The stigma that we carry regarding mental illness as women of color hinders us from acknowledging, educating, and opening ourselves up. We must remember that taking these steps is not a matter of weakness, but it, in fact, gives us power.

Take Pride

As positive images of blackness circulate—from the very recent release of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018) to the lovely images painted of our 44th president and first lady by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald just this year—they circulate in combat with the narrative that often dehumanizes us. We are often spoon fed, nay force fed, the idea that black men are dangerous, but history has proven that this population is the one who faces the most danger—from the slave master, to the KKK member, to the police officer, to our legal system, which arguably stems from each of the aforementioned aggressors. Black men are the ones in need of protecting. While physical protection may be necessary, certainly from police brutality, there is a mental safeguard that needs attention not only to sustain some semblance of peace among black men and the black community, but also to enrich the futures of these men’s lives and the lives of those who surround them.


Considering our unique history—one in which minorities built the nation in which the majority thrives, and one in which minorities, specifically immigrants, keep it thriving—we need unique mental care. Breslau et al (2005) explains that while black people have lower rates of mental illness, it is their lack of access to treatment that makes their mental illness more severe. This is especially true for men who face inordinate prison sentences, homelessness, or areas governed by violence. Particularly related to the last obstacle, the stigma associated with accessing treatment or even being proactive about mental health is a debilitating one. This is not coming from the boys around the block alone. It also comes from the closest family members who simply do not believe that mental illness is just as real as physical illness. To acknowledge his need for therapy or medication would be an indication of weakness in some circles, and in those same circles, weakness can lead to violence or death. So, which does he choose? Mental health or physical health? He chooses his body over his mind because his body is tangible, visible, and his mind preserves the thoughts which distract and haunt him without anyone really taking any notice. The problem, however, is that all of it eventually catches up with him, and without intending to let it harm him physically, he is in a position where he is being handcuffed for disturbing the peace, or worse he is shot for being misunderstood.

            Prison, poverty, violence. Each of these boils down to power, and traditionally, confronting a mental illness is about disempowerment. The idea of not having control of your thoughts suggest that you lack power. But none of us really have control of what we think. We can think about something and then make the decision to think about something else, but we don’t really have control over what comes to mind. The feeling of disempowerment is a socially imposed feeling when it comes to discovering mental illness. The feeling of disempowerment is tied to restrictions that we don’t place on someone who has cancer. A cancer patient receives his diagnosis and then makes a decision about what measures to take to fight the disease—chemotherapy, surgery, medication, or all of the above. We don’t judge him for his decisions. He needs to get well. So why do we stigmatize depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other mental illnesses? Instead, we should feel empowered with the discovery of any mental illness we find before it worsens, and we should encourage those with any mental disorder to take care of themselves by whatever means necessary. We should feel proud that we can take action in a positive way.