You're not alone: Surviving Mental Illness Takes a Village

For reasons too many to list, mental illnesses carry a stigma for women, particularly Black women. One of the most pervasive misconceptions is the belief that “strong” people are less likely to suffer from mental illness because outwardly they appear to have their sh*t together. One study showed that 63% of African Americans believe that a mental health condition is a personal sign of weakness. I consider myself a strong woman, yet I have battled chronic depression for most of my life. 

I’m not an advocate of telling people what they should do or how they should feel, but I can speak from personal experience in hopes that something I say resonates and maybe helps someone. 

As a depressed person, I have found that depression and anxiety cause you to spend vast amounts of time worrying about the future while negatively focusing on yourself. What’s missing in your life, how you’re not good enough, how lonely and alone you feel, what an awful person you are. The list of unpleasant thoughts and feelings are endless. 

I implore you if you’re suffering, reach out for connection. Get out of your head and reach out to talk to someone. Connect with someone who will genuinely listen and hear you. Reaching out is an essential part of self-care. Trust me when I say that “strong” folks long for connection but don’t want to be a bother or burden, all the more reason to check on your seemingly strong friends. 

I want to help, but what do I say?

So, what do you say to a person you suspect is suffering in silence? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Try asking, “How can I help you?” or “What would make you feel better?” and then be prepared to listen. Listen with the intent to hear with understanding; to accurately interpret and gauge a person’s emotional intent from what they are saying. And please be mindful of interrupting to interject what you think a person should or shouldn’t do. Often, when I’ve spent too much time in my head, making it difficult to focus, talking things out helps me find answers and solace in simply being heard. However, if you know someone who has reached the point of self-harm, don’t hesitate to call for professional medical assistance on their behalf.  

Talking to others can create more anxiety.

I understand that when you’re suffering, mustering the strength to reach out may cause additional anxiety. What are some ways that you can practice kind self-care and check-in with yourself? Keep it simple. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling at this moment?” Try not to subject yourself to endless worry about things beyond today.

Agonizing over solutions to a laundry list of worries and fears is daunting. Consider asking, “What is one thing I can do right now to refocus negative and destructive thoughts?” Try to stay honed in on one positive thing you can do now; give yourself permission to limit your attention and set healthy boundaries. 

My go-to one thing is listening to feel-good music. I created a playlist of songs that move me to dance or just make me smile. I use my playlist to take daily dance breaks, refocus my thoughts, and give me something good to do with my mind and body. 

What’s one positive, feel-good thing you can do to refocus negative thoughts and give your brain a mood boost?

If you’ve exceeded positive self-talk and feel like you’re not heard when speaking to friends or family, please don’t hesitate to seek professional therapy or medical assistance, no matter what. 

You are not alone. Living and coping with mental illness takes a village. Practicing kind self-care is essential, as is reaching out when you need support.

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