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Mental Health: A Cultural Perspective

Teneisha Brown

Guest Blogger

Three weeks ago, I finally signed up for grad school for the third time, made a vision board, (extra points because I framed it!) and finally finished the journal template I had been working on for a year. New year, new me! Or whatever folks say when they’re setting up those New Year’s resolutions that will be forgotten by the end of month. I was super proud of myself, so excited to journey into this new year with clarity and intention.

One week after that, I spent the majority of the week in bed; tired, a general lack of interest in anything, no desire to leave my house or engage beyond text messages. After a week of parenting from under my covers, through my closed door, and with much agitation as always, I had my regularly scheduled meeting with my therapist.

During our session, my therapist explained to me that for insurance purposes she must add a diagnosis to my file and that she had determined that I suffer from MDD or major depressive disorder. This isn’t the first or second time I’ve received this diagnosis so, I wasn’t phased.

I started thinking about the medications that are currently sitting in my top drawer, unused and hidden… because God forbid someone was to find out I’m “crazy.”

We pick up where we left off in our last session, trauma this, trauma that, and I explain to her that it’s really important to me to understand why I think the way I do. Particularly because it has begun to affect my relationship with my kids. I am so easily agitated! I tell her there MUST be something wrong with me!

My son said to me a couple weeks ago, “Are you playing again?” and I didn’t understand the question so I asked him what he meant. He explained, “you were just mad, but now you’re joking again.” The question and concern were genuine but the guilt was crushing. My son probably has whiplash due to my emotions running so high and so hot, sometimes with little or no provocation, and I didn’t even realize how he must process this with his 9-year-old spirit.

We dig deeper in that bag, as our time quickly runs out. She closes with this, “We’ll have to go through this a little further next session but I think your diagnosis needs updating. Based on what you’ve explained to me, it sounds like we need to assess you for bipolar disorder.”

Session ends on a cliffhanger.

Immediately after the session, I make a follow-up appointment with Dr. Google to look up the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder. As I mentally check every box, my anxiety is through the roof, wondering if my week of “motivation” was actually mania.

Did I run to the top of the mountain with a manic motor under my ass, only to fall right off the following week? Am I broken? Have I damaged my kids? It’s been so bad lately, does that mean my mind is deteriorating? And Black woman, who can you tell that you are suffering without being judged?

I saw a meme once that said something to the effect of, “Black women are so used to having to be strong and having to downplay trauma that we don’t even recognize when it hurts anymore.”

I knew this one hurt… so naturally, I called my mother. My very Black mother.
This part is important because I quickly learned the answer to what I asked my therapist: “Why do I think like this?” My mother and I are not inherently “soft” or vulnerable with each other, so while my mind said “I’m scared, I need a comforting word,” my mouth stated the facts with as little emotional investment as possible: my therapist suspects I might be suffering from bipolar disorder.

The response? She said, “Well.. I got a lil’ depression, and a lil’ ADD, and a lil’ QRSTUV, too!” She enjoyed a laugh, alone, but it was not what I needed.

I decided to reach out to my Black father. I reframed the question to avoid disappointment. “Can you tell me about the mental health history on your side of the family?” He begins to casually rattle off his own diagnosis, tells me if I “have something,” it probably came from my mother’s side of the family and laughs, while he adds in, “Sorry you’re f*cked up.”

The humor they found had no bearing on the patience I was losing. With more questions now, than answers, I started reflecting on my experience with mental health as a Black woman for better or for worse.

I remember how distinctly wounded I felt in the courtroom, during what felt like, at the time, was the fight of my life. While establishing custody for my son, his father made a point of telling the judge that I was seeing a therapist. By doing this, he weaponized a service that should have been considered a positive force in my life. He offered up this information to work against me… A fact that, according to my mother, my son’s father should never have known anyway. “Those struggles are private.. Do you want them to think there is something wrong with you?”

Fortunately that judge’s response was, “It sounds like she recognized that she needed help and got it.” That was that judge’s opinion. Another judge, another day, another mood, I could’ve been deemed unfit to raise my children.

At least culturally, that’s what I always understood to be the truth. You go pray about it. You call your good girlfriend. You go on with your day as if your shoulders were literally built to carry around this world without a complaint. And if you MUST seek help, you never, EVER take the medication. At least that's what my father said when he called back to double down on making sure that I did not accept any diagnosis for paperwork purposes, “because once it’s on paper, there’s no backtracking.”

During this Black History Month, I want to humbly offer you the permission to seek the help you need. Please don’t ever let your Black mama, your white doctor, or a green dollar impede on how you show up for yourself. It is heroic, it is breaking generational barriers, it is your right to a healthy and whole life. The journey is not linear, the next steps won’t always be clear, the doctor won’t always be a good fit, but it is your right to serve your spirit, and not the unnecessary struggle.

Learning your diagnosis is hard, struggling unnecessarily is also hard. It’s up to you to choose your “hard.” Download the WhiteFlag App today to join a community of your peers. No judgement, just real connection with people who understand what you're going through.

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