*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.