By Blessing Dada
Bebe Moore Campbell was a leading African American journalist, novelist, and a national
spokesperson for individuals and families affected by mental illness in the United States. She
was one of the founding members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Urban
Los Angeles Chapter. After her death in 2006, friends, family, and advocates who were
inspired by the her work and passion led the charge to create an official minority mental
health awareness month.
July was then to be declared as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in
2008. Since then, July has been a time to acknowledge and explore issues concerning mental health, substance use disorders, and minority communities, and to destigmatize mental illness and enhance public awareness of mental illness.
No it's not July, but I never got a chance this year to speak openly in support of this movement, and so I bring you my perspective.
I advocate for mental health among minorities to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face, in regard to mental illness. Minority can be associated with racial, ethnic, or cultural minorities, expanding to a wide range of marginalized and underserved communities including refugee, immigrant and religious groups. Our identities are formed not only by what we believe to be true, but also the views of others around us. In many ways, minority groups are seen as victims or broken. As a community, they must constantly work towards combating those stereotypes to maintain wellbeing. It is at the intersection of all these nuanced identities where one must constantly confront the biases
and stereotypes used by others to define them.
People of the culture can have a different perspective and interpretation of the term
mental health. Speaking from my experience as an Afro-Irish: In the African community; family, community and spiritual beliefs tend to be great sources of strength and support. However, this is not always the case as Africans (and in this case, Nigerians) generally rely especially on faith, family and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even when medical or therapeutic treatment may be necessary.
Being a Christian, faith and spirituality help me and others in the recovery process,
but should not be the only option to pursue. It is well-known that other ethnic communities
may not share Western conceptualisation or use Western language to describe mental health. In black communities, mental illness and psychological distress are seen as weaknesses, both historically and culturally.
Growing up, I have always struggled with mental health due to various and ongoing issues in my life. But I really didn’t allow it to sit with me until between the ages of 12-14. Even then it was still hard.
Growing up in two cultures with varying perspectives, I have always tugged back and forth. I was born and raised in Ireland and gone through the education system where we would have a national week dedicated to mental health in secondary school. Guidance counsellors, retreats, and speakers coming in to talk on the importance of mental health. But naturally and psychologically, as humans, it's easy to relate to someone; someone that looked like you and came from the same background or upbringing as you did.
I understood the message, but going back home to a different community who aren’t really
as to understanding or who weren’t bothered to be educated and advocate in this area, had
always set me back. When dealing with my own depression I was often told that 'black
women are supposed to be strong’ or ‘depression is a white thing', 'going to a therapist is a
white thing.’ But at this stage, I was tired of looking elsewhere. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It had to begin with me. I wanted to begin or continue to encourage black individuals and other ethnical individuals to take care of their mental health. To discuss it in a way that eliminates the stigma attached to seeking help, but explain that, in fact, it is a sign of strength to recognize that you need help, accept it, and seek it out.
I want to fight against any biases and negative stereotypes of black individuals and those
from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds and commit to confirming their value in the
world and in our health care systems. There are too many myths/misconceptions about
mental health in minority communities I want to be a part in engaging in moving toward change and equal opportunity by informing, educating, and accepting, with my experiences, that we do not know all that we need to about each other's culture, but that we care enough to ask questions with cultural humility.
We need to continue to do much more and also diversely so that the message reaches all
types of communities that we have in an ever-more cultural Ireland. In the words of Martin
Luther King, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.
Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background.
However, background and identity can make access to mental health treatment much more
difficult. I want to be strong in equality change that I wish to continue seeing. I want to highlight the message across that mental health struggles does not discriminate on
any grounds, especially ethnically.
Life is like an arrow: you have to let go to move forward. Once you make the
decision, it's scary! But you’ll sure loosen your grasp on old concepts so you can swing free
your way to new ones.
For support contact:
Samaritans - 116 123
Pieta House - 1800 247 247
Aware - 1800 80 48 48
For additional support lines click here.