High anxiety is one of my biggest individual struggles as an entrepreneur and a writer. I can explain most of these feelings away and remind myself that anxiety is something created from my own mind. I remind myself that what I’m creating is worthwhile. I remind myself of the hard work that I’ve put into my business as a 22-year-old self-sufficient entrepreneur. But no matter how much I remind myself of what I know to be true, anxiety can still creep in. It’s the fear that you’ll never be “successful”. It’s the fear that you’ll never be “recognized”. It’s the fear that whatever you’re building will crumble to the ground if you look away even for a moment. Anxiety is a common motif amongst young black creatives — especially young black women. I see brilliant women every day questioning their worth constantly.
Anxiety is a common motif amongst young black creatives — especially young black women. I see brilliant women every day questioning their worth constantly. I’m not immune to this. This week, I wanted to write about reassurance and how to remind yourself that you don’t need the world to validate you, especially when it’s slated to invalidate you at every turn and diminish your accomplishments.
Content Warning: suicide, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, abuse, mental health issues
Yesterday was International Men’s Day and I wanted to write a post addressing men’s issues but not in the way that you think. As someone who has called herself a feminist for years and been in many “arguments” about feminist issues, one of the common derailments to women discussing the social issues that affect them is, “What about the men?!”
So what about men?
Why are women responsible for solving all the social issues that affect their lives as well as the social issues that impact men as well? The truth of the matter is, men who derail with this kind of statement don’t actually care about the social issues affecting men. It’s simply an affront to them that women would dare question the status quo or would dare defy the existing social hierarchy in any way. It’s the weak attack of a threatened animal but luckily for you, there are ways to disarm this…
[[Before you read onwards… I encourage you to read ALL the posts linked in this blog post. Most of them I link for a reason and I want you to check them out to further your learning. — MGMT]]
Viewing mental health through the lens of intersectional feminism calls for us to examine the specific mental health issues faced by the LGBTI community. While all mental health issues are largely ignored by the greater West Indian community, another group of marginalized people face specific oppression at the hands of medical professionals; they face specific issues regarding their sexuality and gender expression that other West Indians do not face.
In a society where non-cisgender and non-heterosexual people face massive amounts of physical/emotional and sexual violence, there is no space for LGBTI+ individuals to receive help or support for their unique difficulties. Not to mention, the people who cause these difficulties don’t believe that their problems are real. While I’m not qualified to speak on behalf of anyone in the community, I can advise my readers, especially those in positions of privilege, to pay attention to how our society creates toxic conditions for the mental health of LGBTI+ individuals.
LGBTI+ individuals face bullying and abuse at the hands of their family and friends. Abuse has a definitive negative impact on mental health. (Source: CDC, Google it)
Since my parents are both educators, I hear a lot about what happens in the education system down here. I also have some of my own experiences and the experiences of close friends that I use for reference.
I would automatically distrust any statistics produced by the government of this island regarding mental health, so I’m going to address this issue without hard data because no hard data is trustworthy far less “unbiased”.
In school, there are many cases of high achieving students “going mad” either before exams or during the middle of the semester. These students sometimes let out blood curdling screams heard through out the school. Sometimes they “speak in tongues” or engage in behaviors otherwise deemed “off”. There are many other instances of acting out that get students labelled as crazy.
“Mental health” isn’t just something for wealthy white people. Intersectional feminism calls for us to examine the intersectionality of experiencing sexism, racism and mental disorders. Of course, practically no one in the Caribbean believes mental health isn’t a first world invention, barring perhaps a few therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists. (NOTE: I must add long after I wrote this post that most Caribbean mental health professionals are incredibly ableist.) Even then, I’m skeptical about the depth of understanding considering what I’ve heard about doctor/patient confidentiality down here (although willing to listen to dissenters who may know the truth). If we look at statistical data across the West, which likely mirrors the trends here, we can see that mental health issues are serious and pervasive.
Poverty and mental illness are inextricably linked. Poverty is thought to cause mental illness and mental illness is thought to cause poverty. [x]
Long term stress exacerbates existing mental health problems and create them. [x]
Black Caribbean people in the UK have high rates of schizophrenia, a condition we know to be at least partly influenced by genetics. [x]
Cases of depression may be underreported in black Americans due to stigma within the community. [x]
These articles represent some of the many pieces of evidence that suggest mental health issues are relevant to the Caribbean community. Yet, we continue to ignore the facts because of stigma and strong beliefs based on misinformation. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to breaking the silence around mental health issues and ultimately creating a healthier society. The mind and body are integrated and when one suffers, the other does too.
What supports our culture’s view of mental health is the notion that expression of black suffering is “complaining” or “exaggerating”. This is rooted in the racist belief that black people can tolerate more pain and should tolerate more pain. We see lapses in mental health as weakness, attention seeking or much worse rather than recognizing them for what they are: valid expressions of emotional pain. The “strength” of the Caribbean people can be a good thing but not when the cost is something as significant as honest communication about our mental health and how to care for it. We are far behind the scientific research in our perceptions and attitudes towards mental disorders and maintaining mental health. (Rum is not a solution because it makes you temporarily ‘stress free’!)
While many may respond to what I’ve said dismissively, suggesting that the region is just backwards, I don’t think that’s an entirely accurate view of what’s going on. Like everything in the region (history, culture, religion) there is a powerful colonial legacy at work here that’s created these views and perceptions that are slowly poisoning our people. Poisoning our people? Isn’t that a bit theatrical? Not particularly when you consider that the outcome for many untreated mental disorders is suicide. Ignoring mental health results in death.
While suicide may be the “worst case scenario” it’s not the only reason we need to care for our nation’s mental health. Untreated and undiagnosed cases of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia all contribute to lowering national productivity. If the population is too mentally ill to work and not getting better because they lack diagnosis and treatment, national productivity will dip.
Additionally, the ability to contribute to the capitalist economy is also not the be all end all of life. When we have a mentally ill population we have an unhappy population, a population with lives defined by violence, abuse, alcoholism and possibly much worse. (Experiencing these things as children can lead to mental disorders later on is just a part of what I’m getting at here, not suggesting that mentally ill people cause violence etc.)
I haven’t quite worked out yet what would be a good solution to our massive problem with mental health here. We could start advocacy groups or perhaps increase the number of suicide hotlines across the region. This still might not be enough. We can’t examine mental health without looking at how it intersects with other identities like class, disability or LGBTQ identity. That adds another layer of complexity to this whole issue.
Hopefully though, there are people working on solutions. What do you think? I haven’t ever explicitly done this before but I welcome readers to begin discussing this with me in the comments!
Intersectional feminism in the Caribbean means ending the stigma against mental health and actually addressing the mental health crisis as well as our culture’s ableism at large. I’ve tried to write a post about mental health and the Caribbean for months, continuing to draw blanks when I try to put a definition on our perceptions and attitudes towards mental health as a region. I struggle to portray the relationship succinctly in a way that would have the possibility to change the minds of those who believe that mental health is a struggle for the white, wealthy American.
West Indians who understand the problems we have with acknowledging mental health (much less treating mental health problems) doesn’t need to be told anything more. So, I figured that I would address the non believers in this post, in some desperate hope of breaking through.
Mental health is defined simply by a lazy author’s first hit on a google search as being “a person’s condition with regards to their psychological and emotional well being”. In general, I believe St. Lucians have pretty good mental health from all outward appearances (which may themselves be deceiving). As a whole the nation tends to be very relaxed, and possibly dangerously blasé about most issues. We maintain this lackadaisical cool towards near everything, letting neither poverty nor anything else bring us down.
However, these generalities exclude particular realities about our society that reflect a negative aspect of mental health, and that reflect a society with some fairly troubling undercurrents regarding emotional and psychological well being. There’s the common trope of the older West Indian man who spends all weekend nights drinking (and sometimes weekday evenings) only to come home piss drunk and beat his wife who has spent all day working alone to keep house and child. There’s the consistent presence of “crazy” people roaming downtown Castries as they move between the psychiatric hospital and the streets.
There is a lot going on at home and in the Caribbean diaspora that indicates poor mental health. We also know that poverty and the high stress of poverty are associated with conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Not so much for the rich and wealthy. Of course conversations surrounding mental health are cloaked in vague language at best and at worst flat out denial that these problems persist despite the fact that they are quite common. We silence conversations on mental health and choose not to believe that they could possibly affect us.
Perhaps we believe that black suffering is normal. After all, our nations were born out of blood and trauma. What else do we know? Impoverished mental health feels so familiar, that we don’t realize that we don’t have to suffer. There are names for our “eccentricities”. There are treatments and therapeutic techniques that mean no one should have to endure suffering, sometimes to the point of suicide.
Mental health is connected to physical health, whether or not we accept it. Taking care of our minds is not a white/American luxury; it’s a necessity. While understanding mental health through a spiritual framework may be culturally relevant, we also need to understand that making use of advanced scientific understanding of mental health is even more important to ensuring our nation’s health overall.
I find it troubling that we have so many people, often times young, able-bodied men, committing suicide in our country [x][x][x]. Other people seem to find it troubling as well and fall back on a spiritual understanding of this problem. While there’s nothing wrong with understanding various issues through spirituality, there is a problem when we ignore factual information about mental health to justify our preconceived ideas.
We need to learn about and destigmatize mental health issues. This needs to happen immediately so that we can stop losing our citizens to treatable problems. Mental illness is not a weakness that people can just “get over”. Mental illness is not just similar to physical illness. It is a physical illness. Would you tell someone to get over a broken leg? If not, you should never tell someone to “get over” a serious mental health problem.
There are resources available at the end of this post to help you understand common mental health issues better.