“just pray about it” – ignoring mental health is killing black youth

April 13, 2017
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By Artemis Faye, AFROPUNK contributor

Stumbling into adulthood often causes black youth to become more hyperaware of the fact that that even as children, we were constantly fed the narrative that we are less human than any other demographic. From day one we were taught that we could speak, but not too loudly because we already take up too much space. We could feel, but not too deeply as to not be a threat- We are even taught to grieve quietly because any sign of emotional weakness is effectively labeled as ‘for white people’ and everything from familial trauma to mental health issues are urged to be kept private within our families, effectively silencing an entire generation of traumatized black youth whose minds are slowly and quietly killing us.

Like many black youth that are still struggling with understanding our late introduction to foreign concepts such as “anxiety” and “depression,” I had no idea that I was allowed to address trauma until the first time I was admitted into a treatment facility at 16 years old- I had lost a dangerous amount of weight due to an eating disorder that had crept up and taken over my life. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face when the doctor looked at the scale and asked, “You didn’t notice anything?”
As soon as I entered the program I was made immediately aware that I did not fit the standard profile of someone who was “supposed” to have an eating disorder- not only was I the only woman of color in the program, but I struggled with group therapy because I honestly had a completely different life and struggles from my white peers. How could I, a poor black girl from Atlanta who could barely afford the treatment I needed, relate to a room full of upper middle class white women? How could I properly address generational trauma while staying silent about the issues that affected me soley for being a black woman? By the end of the program, I had felt so ostracized that I ended up leaving against medical advice.

There were not less PoC in the program because we are less likely to have mental health issues, but because we are more likely to hurt silently.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services directly correlates poverty with increased mental illness, and blacks demographically have the highest poverty rate at a staggering 27.4 percent! How is it that we are at a higher risk of mental illness than any white or non-white PoC, yet routinely silenced even within our own communities? The idea that any amount of ass whoppings or prayer can solve a very real chemical imbalance in your brain is toxic and is keeping young black people sick. Navigating young adulthood as someone with a mental illness can be exhausting when we are given less resources and understanding by our families, churches and communities. Many of us have developed a mixture of self-deprecating humor and faux confidence as a shield to cope- we are not being heard and it is killing us.

*Artemis Faye is an Seattle based model and unapologetic activist.