featured, Letters, Living with Illness
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Dear POC: We Get Depressed Too

*I was inspired by a part in the interview I did with Anna from Respychl about mental health. My interview is part of a series on her blog, please check it out!

When I was in the 11th grade, my father told me that during his meeting with the school principals, they suggested I see a counselor. My father refused. He said I didn’t need to speak to anyone about my problems because I am African, and Africans don’t get depressed. Africans don’t get depressed because, despite a post-colonial history of poverty and war, Africans manage to find happiness at the end of the day, my father said.

I was a little upset; it was a new school, and I didn’t know what to make of how I was feeling. I didn’t know much about depression but I did think I had experienced it as a 13-year-old angry little girl, upset over the passing of a loved one and feeling misunderstood her entire childhood. But every day of my 16-year-old life, I woke up feeling meek and totally empty. Sometimes, I’d wake up so angry, barely a word would come out of my mouth the entire day at school. No friends: people weren’t interested and neither was I. There was a false rumor about me going around, too. So, yes, I would have liked to have somebody to trust at school. But I believed my father’s opinion and denied my emotions.

My father is a wonderful man, he just could not relate. My immigrant parents have been through a lot. They left their origin country by boat to the neighboring Angola, where they fled a war and came to Canada. My mother was sick all of my life, and today here I am, scathed but healed. Anyway, I do understand where my father is coming from. Despite economic shifts due to colonialism and government corruption, and ancestral trauma, Africans have never lost the aspect of community in our nations. There is a communal state of mind where people share with one another, help raise each other’s children, among other things. When we are sick or have experienced trauma, friends and family are there for us until we get better. You are never alone. African immigrants have carried this state of mind with them in the communities we’ve found in the west. But they are far from being perfect communities, and it doesn’t mean that Africans don’t get affected by problems. Poverty, trauma and the like… it’s complicated. Plus, we have to factor in other issues that the individual is personally going through, maybe secretly due to cultural taboos. Even if you can stand up on your own two feet again, negative emotions can creep up at any time.

I used to feel ashamed and selfish about being depressed. Here, in Canada, I have so many opportunities and great healthcare. But I no longer feel that way. I’m also in a much better place now after seeking a lot of help. I had to train myself to believe that my experiences and emotions were valid, especially if physical imbalances may contribute to mental illness. Here, in the West, black communities and other POC communities still carry a taboo around mental health issues, but I believe that’s starting to break down slowly. My hope is that more people of color become open to the fact that the state of your overall health depends on how you feel inside just as much as your physical health. Wherever you live in the world, that place comes with its own set of issues which affect everyone. And I don’t even know what you have had to deal with at home. How you feel, you know, it’s completely valid.

I like to adopt the practice of helping someone out until they can get back on their feet, and including others to do the same because a lot of the time, a depressed person will feel alone and like they don’t want to bother anybody. It hasn’t always worked out in my experience, though, for a few reasons: one time the person kept rejecting my hand, while another person was too individualist and just believed they were alone in this no matter what. Despite these two instances, there were more breakthroughs. There are many people who can appreciate and benefit from having people around them. This doesn’t have to be for when your friend or loved one is ill; you could be there for a new mom, a new immigrant, whomever! Try it, and see what happens.

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85 Comments

  1. Sadly within our families, groups and communities mental health is still one of those things that we just don’t want to address.
    I struggle with depression and for years I have hid it because not only is it not understood, most times even family and friends will listen but not take depression serious. You may be offered prayer or a quick solution but no one is willing to help look after you. No one extends that hand of trying to understand depression and how it affects your life.
    It is a daily struggle and even rougher for those who do not have a support system.

    Liked by 8 people

    • Yes, everything you say is true. I am not quite sure why, but I think it has something to do with thinking that someone with mental health issues is seen as “crazy”. I have also dealt with hiding my depression and I still have not told a lot of my family about my experiences. Tbh, I don’t really plan on doing so either. I think as teens and adults there is always a way to talk to someone discreetly either through a phone line or a counselor at school/at work, and tellling them that we don’t want our family involved because they don’t take it seriously. Also support groups help too, which can be found on meetup.com and hospitals. But there might also be that one family member who may understand (like perhaps a cousin). Either way, I really hope that you get the care you deserve.

      Liked by 6 people

      • Sorry to jump in but I found both this article and this convo really interesting….I’ve written a piece on mental health and how it’s not really touched upon greatly in a lot of ethnic communities….I think you’re both right. It’s seen as either a taboo, or something just passing, or in a lot of cases- a spiritual attack of some sort, and prayer is usually the suggested remedy as opposed to actually discussing why you may be feeling that way and what the person needs from them. Which is a great shame….but it’s really good that you no longer feel like these feelings are wrong and are now trying to deal with them as best as you can….I wish you guys all the best 🙂
        x
        thegrlwhoblog.wordpress.com

        Liked by 6 people

      • Yeah, a lot of people may attribute it to witchcraft or a lack of faith in their life. We just don’t even have a word for depression in many languages. But why I believe that is, is a whole other discussion! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: Dear POC: We Get Depressed Too – Inside My Bubble

  3. So true. I’m black and I live I the U.S. and mental health within our community is an issue. We must acknowledge that it is an issue and there’s no shame in seeking help.

    Liked by 9 people

    • Yes, and I see this being an issue in black communities worldwide. People suffer in silence a lot in black communities partly because we don’t even know we are depressed. We need more support groups, awareness, and professionals available in our neighborhoods and schools.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think at the end of the day we’re all human. Regardless of gender, color, ethnicity we’re all prone to depression. Depression is something that can really hurt people and drive them to worse things. We should be mindful of this and help our neighbor as much as possible.
    Sidenote, can you check out my blog please! http://www.revivalinchrist.com

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I love this! I went through the same thing but with Haitian parents. It’s like in my culture “mental illness” doesnt exist. If I came to my parents about being depressed they would think I’m lying and ask me what am I depressed if I have everything that I need. But they don’t understand that its much deeper than that.

    Check out my blog please
    https://nonchalantdiva.wordpress.com

    Liked by 3 people

    • Exactly, it is much deeper than just looking around you and being thankful. Granted, I think it helps to be thankful, but on a very shallow level. Thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Frah Eqbal says

    This was such a good read.
    I believe coming from a background which restricts your every move and doesn’t allow you to think, your mind eventually wanders in places it finds empty spaces. Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

    That’s why I started a page for people to share their stories through arts and words while promoting artists and writers. It gives people a way to express their emotions and sorrows to the world. It’s a community.

    visit: http://themakeofyou.com/

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Everyone gets depressed, we are all human! Sometimes people just need to listen to each other. The impact on our lives when ignored can be brutal. We all face something no matter race. Great article

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I’m half Puerto Rican and half white and my dad has definitely told me before that Puerto Ricans don’t get depressed. He’s also told me he’s concerned I’m a hypochondriac for going to the ER a few times over the last year over serious medical issues I do have with proof (as if I’m doing this to myself somehow). He’s told me I’m dramatic when I’m upset about anything or try to establish boundaries because he can be incredibly overbearing and demanding.

    I love him, of course, but he’s not a supporter of mental health issues and the majority of my family on that side flip emotions incredibly quickly but never think it’s a problem. To them it’s just expressing themselves even if that means not speaking for months at a time.

    Anyway, great post. Made me do a lot of thinking about my own culture and what’s acceptable and not when it comes to emotional distress.

    Liked by 4 people

    • That level of dismissive attitude is incredible. And I’m so sorry that you’re being told to ignore your health concerns and even being called hypochondriac! Also, it hurts a lot when you’re not being spoken to for a while by a loved one. That’s depriving somebody of love.

      I see a lot of POC, especially parents, dismiss emotions because it has been ingrained in us for generations to just move on from trauma, like colonial trauma, because life had to go on and we no longer had the space to heal, or mourn. But here in the West and in modern-day, at least we’re no longer in a mode of survival and everybody has access to some type of help now. Plus POC need more safe spaces created for them. Anyway, what helped me was finding a support system mostly outside of family. Some people, it’s just not going to help you to open up to them, and that’s ok. You need to be better, not worse. That being said, one day I opened up to my sister and cousins and now we talk about how we feel from time to time. I hope you find the support you deserve!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Thank you! I have a very empathetic and supportive boyfriend I can tell pretty much anything to and he at least listens even if he doesn’t have a solution. My mom has always understood as I’ve gotten some of my health problems from her. My dad says she’s a hypochondriac as well and that being around her too much has made me that way as well. *rolls eyes* But I know it’s just his way of coping. It would be nice if we could just wish away our problems.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I like what you said about being his way of coping. It’s curious how the mind will always find a way to cope. 🙂 I can tell you’re an understanding person yourself, and maybe our fathers need that kind of person around them as much as we do.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Hey Josephine, thanks for sharing a little bit of your story. I listened to a podcast about growing up with immigrant parents who didn’t understand the difficulties their children experienced. Perhaps your story parallels it. Our environments contribute so much to the way we experience the world, and depression and anxiety have unfortunately become a natural result of a disconnected world. I find it interesting to compare the kind of problems we experience to those of our parents.
    Anyway, thanks for writing this post – I look forward to reading more

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much!
      Which podcast was it, if you don’t mind? I’d love to listen to it, too.
      I also believe that depression and anxiety are a result of us being so disconnected, not only to one another but also to our inner selves.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I think that most POC give their mental health a back seat because they see it as not measuring up to our culture’s past struggles. Like how do we complain of a paper cut to a stab victim. But both bleed. Mental health is important and I hope that becomes increasingly apparent so that people suffering don’t get left behind.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love that analogy. And I agree, an important part of being silent is because you really feel like your problem doesn’t compare. It’s hard to explain, but both experiences are valid reasons to feel blue. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Depression sucks, literally and figuratively. It sucks the life out of you and you don’t feel like doing anything. You can fake it and act like you are fine, when inside you are self-destructing over and over again. I relate to the feeling of depression, at times I still deal with small after effects of being depressed for years of my life. Having someone there for you is a good feeling even if you or the other person is depressed. It makes you feel good and it helps the other person in a similar way, letting them know that they are not alone.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Absolutely not saying I know exactly the predicament of the author, but I experienced something similar when growing up. I had moved around a lot when I had been younger, and was really unhappy and felt like I didn’t belong when back in my birth country. Pretty much everyone around me, relatives, friends at school and teachers told me to quit complaining because I had everything I could ever possibly need, and that I was born there so there is no reason for me to feel so isolated and disconnected. It’s almost a form of gaslighting, not allowing an individual to feel their own feelings.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. My favorite thing I’ve learned after joining this community, is that you are sick, not weak. Asking for help is more brave than shouldering the burden alone. This is something that is at times difficult to come to terms with. Thank you for the wonderful read! Stay strong my friend!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. euphonicdaze says

    It’s very reassuring to know I am not the only person feeling this way. I remember when my parents started to realize just how depressed I was and they punished me for it. Your article makes me wonder if perhaps my (black) father had reason similar to your father behind punishing me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Punishment! :O Oh no! Sorry about that. The reasoning is most likely the same. It was not the first time my dad had been told something like that about me, and it was not handled well. Anyway, I hope you’re in a better place now, as I am. 🙂 Thank you.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Well done. Depression can affect anyone, it does not care what color your skin is. Riding my bike always puts me in a better mood. That’s what I try to inspire people to do, or.yoga, walking, diet, etc. Even if you have health issues, overweight like me but still able to bike a very long way. Even if you don’t feel like it, if you can try maybe you will get that feeling of being a kid again, the wind in your hair, the sun on your face. Thanks for your article and working to reduce.stigma.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. This is a great read and I always feel its necessary to keep on talking on this issue as people misunderstood us to have bad attitudes and mix with person of colour that could be doing it tough on bases of stereotype and etc. This article is somewhat relatable and its good that we bringing light to the matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Eu sofro com depressão há muitos anos. Eu me trato desde o início do problema. No Brasil, ainda existe muito preconceito. Muitas pessoas pensam que depressão é problema espiritual. Outras pessoas dizem que é “doença de ricos” e dizem que o transtorno seria causado por falta de ocupação. Estou em plena crise. Choro o tempo inteiro, mas vai passar. Boa sorte!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I have suffered from depression for many years. I’ve been treating myself since the beginning of the problem. In Brazil, there is still a lot of prejudice. Many people think that depression is a spiritual problem. Other people say it is “wealthy” disease and say that the disorder would be caused by lack of occupation. I’m in the middle of a crisis. I cry all the time, but it will pass. Good luck!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I never knew that. That’s very eye-opening information, thanks for sharing that. It seems that so many cultures attribute depression to a spiritual problem or a rich people (or white people, on some places) problem. I think it’s strange the degree to which we dissociate with this disease. As for you personally, I’m sorry depression has you like this. Have you looked into getting any help or even looking at what may be the root cause? I know how hard it is to be depressed for years at a time, but I now know that it can get better. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. You know what, people like you are the reasons why narratives would constantly evolve. Thank you for lending your voice.
    Over here in Nigeria, where majority of the population are black native people, depression holds no meaning for them. its just being sad, and it will soon pass. When they see people commit suicide, its termed ‘evil spirit possessed’. Is it a lack of education? or the over-familiarity with a faulty narrative?. truthfully it’s more of the latter. Thankfully conversations have started revolving around this important but neglected narrative/issue.
    My thought process isn’t so different from yours, I blog at
    belleestephany@wordpress.com
    do check it out and lemme know your thoughts.maybe this might be my topic for the week

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thank you so much! While I’m not sure how long it will take to change the attitudes back in Africa and other countries, I too see that the conversation is slowly starting to change attitudes here in the West within all POC communities. I’m definitely going to check out your blog, and please do write about this as well! We need to expand this conversation!

      Like

  20. ThePragmaticFool says

    It’s so sad the stigma those with anxiety and depression face from people who do not have to live with it day in and day out. My best friend – white – dealt with depression up until the day he took his life. Much like your father’s viewpoint, he never explained the situation to me and I was distraught and hurt and confused by the entire thing upon the news of his passing. My boy friend deals with anxiety and depression, and I can visually see the toll that it takes on his life and relationships. I do my best to not make it personal, but sometimes things aren’t so easy.
    If only more people had empathy… then again, empathy would fix many of our worlds problems.
    Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Great Article! I must commend you for being transparent.
    Stress & Depression are real emotions that can be toxic & life threatening for anyone, if not dealt with properly.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I get depressed too but I feel that people take light of it and that makes me feel even worst. Like they think that I’m making it up and I should just « cheer up. » From where I come from, if you see a professional about mental issues, you’re crazy. No one actually owns up to mental illness here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I see. That can really cause someone to suffer in silence. Well I’ve been there, and the only solution I had at the time was to get help secretly. Hopefully you get the care you need. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 2 people

  23. I’m from Texas, and hospitality is second nature to breathing. I live in South Germany now and the culture shock is incredible. Its usually a “Me Me Me…” Mentality here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m from and in Texas too, currently staying out in the country and yes people can be friendly (that’s what Texas means – Tejas in Pueblo Indian, I believe), but they can also be just as mean as anyone else. Give you a hug so they can more easily stab you in the back. That hasn’t happened here but then everyone has a gun, or seems like it, so you want to be careful!

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I think it’s really crazy how much of a stigma mental illness is, especially in the black community. Times have definitely changed and there are different things that plague our generation than it did the last that they just don’t seem to understand. It’s so much harder to “make it” in life now.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. In Latino communities depression as seen as a weakness and problems are not talked about as much as possible – thank you for this beautiful article 🙂 helping others back on to their feet is wonderful. Please keep on doing that – it makes the world a better place !

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for sharing that bit of information and you’re welcome! I see a lot of similarities between different communities of color. We seem to handle so many issues the same way. My hope is that this taboo will lessen. Have a good day!

      Liked by 3 people

  26. Reblogged this on Progressive Express and commented:
    People Need Help Coping Sometimes- And That Includes Black People. Enjoy This Terrific Piece on Mental Health Issues And Overcoming The Old Stigma Of Therapy.

    Liked by 3 people

  27. I absolutely agree with you, I am a victim of mental health and I’m an African too. Fully understand your point of view.Well written.Do check out my blog too

    Liked by 2 people

  28. authensible1357 says

    Great post. I’m an immigrant living in the US. I went through a very depressed state some years ago and did not seek help. In looking back, I think I really felt that stigma of airing your dirty laundry. I know I needed help bad because there are plenty of times, I even felt suicidal. But I still did not seek professional help. Now this is all in hindsight and I can see more clearly but at the time, I just endured.

    I’m in a much better place now but I agree, we need/can do better in seeking professional help. Yes, there’s religious communities and families and friends but sometimes what we truly need is a professional in the field of counseling, therapy etc to help us.
    Thanks for a great reminder to not feel stigma, ashamed if we need that extra help that therapy or counseling can provide.

    Like

    • It’s really great that you were able to get out of feeling this way. I appreciate you sharing your story and I hope more people come to the same realizations as you did.

      Like

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