In our March blog “Resist with Rose” we provided some mental health resources to our readers, understanding that many individuals navigate their mental health in isolation, especially in communities of color. While brainstorming our next topic, we thought it fitting to provide mental health awareness its own article, to underscore the the importance of removing the stigma associated with mental health. In 2005, NPR did a broadcast titled the The Stigma of Mental Illness in Communities of Color. During this broadcast they shared :
“The National Institutes of Health says almost half of all Americans will develop some form of mental illness during their lifetime and that many of those diagnosed first experience symptoms during their adolescent years. But in communities of color, the numbers may be more devastating because of the stigma involved.”
If individuals do not take time to tend their mental health they can develop or exacerbate other health conditions. Furthermore, it can lead to unhealthy habits such substance abuse and addiction to things such as drugs or alcohol, which are temporary fixes.
I first began therapy my freshman spring of college. I had finished my first semester at Bryn Mawr, and I felt a ton of emotions. During this time, I was navigating my course load, my multiple campus jobs, extracurricular activities, familial dynamics/responsibilities, while also being on the receiving end of someone else’s nervous breakdown and untreated mental health. Moreover, I was adjusting and accepting what being in a predominantly white space, that was formed on the precepts of white supremacy, could do to the mental psyche of a student of color. At that moment I remembered the College offered 6 free counseling sessions to students, and I signed up for my first appointment. In the back of my head I knew my family would be supportive of the idea, but at the same time I did not want to share this at first because I did not know how me enrolling would be perceived, did it mean I was weak, or wasn’t strong enough to navigate and persevere through. After attending a few sessions, I began to feel a weight lift as I was able to talk to an objective individual in a confidential space; it gave me the freedom that I needed at the time to determine my stressors and what I could control. As I continued at Bryn Mawr, every spring I found myself in the counseling center, because that time of year I always found myself the most stressed. After a while I comfortable sharing this with other people beside my mom, because I saw how much it helped me and I thought it could help others.
After graduation, I did not continue therapy, and often made plans to find a new therapist, but I just with life demands , I never get around to it. In the last year, I have dealt with a variety of emotions, and life events in a condensed time frame, and I felt I needed that outlet again because it provided me the outlet to find balance. I spoke with my primary doctor who is a woman of color about my experiences and she underscored the importance of managing stress, and being intuned with my mental health, which was an important reminder. During my search for a therapist, I determined a black female therapist, because I did not want to have to always provide context when explaining a certain situations. Through my research I found black female therapist who approaches counseling, from a social justice advocate lens, which was like music to my ears. Through this process I have been able to find the language and the verbage to articulate how I was feeling, but also validated my experiences. Through this process I am continuing to learn more about myself and the importance of making sure I’m whole.
From a very young age, I learned to cast emotions aside and mask my negative thoughts and feelings with a false appearance of happiness. To be clear, there were many times that I was genuinely happy, but the periods that I wasn’t were incredibly difficult to push through. I can’t count the number of times I was told to smile, “think positive thoughts,” and sweep things under the proverbial rug. I embraced books as my escape from reality when everything seemed too overwhelming to process, and journals were welcome friends with whom I shared my deepest thoughts and secrets. To this day, I have at least 3 journals lying around my apartment at all times, for those moments I need to write out what I don’t wish to share with the world.
In high school, I started meeting with a counselor without even realizing I was engaging in therapy. It was a completely new world for me, and I greeted it with open arms. Mental health was not a welcome topic in my family, stemming from both a strong cultural stigma and individuals’ negative past experiences with therapy themselves. In college, when I decided to pursue a different career path than one I had set for myself at the age of 5, and was just beginning to deal with past trauma and anxiety triggers, I knew it was time to make my mental health a priority. My senior year, I regularly attended therapy sessions, which I am forever grateful for. The summer after my graduation from Bryn Mawr, I desperately needed to talk with someone. Fortunately, after a few months of hiding, I reached out for help.
In July 2015, I was sexually assaulted by someone I had been seeing throughout my senior year of college. I reverted to (horrible) coping mechanisms I had honed carefully over time, and pushed my feelings so deep down that it’s taken 3 full years to pull them back out. My therapist not only helps me continue to heal, but also helps me better understand myself each week. It doesn’t matter if I’m working through my past experiences, my professional life, or my relationships, I know that my time in therapy is a safe place to open up and really engage with my emotions, and work through healthy solutions. It’s perfectly fine to not feel okay 100% of the time, and it’s been a blessing to learn and accept that. This process is empowering for me, and I look forward to continued growth on this journey.
As we go into May which is Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s work to de-stigmatize mental health. Dealing with mental health can be a very uncomfortable topic, however it’s important to navigate our health in ways that makes sense for us. For some it may be therapy, others may find other outlets such as religion, or meditation. No matter the strategy, just remember to take the time to recharge and focus on you.
We recognize that alcohol can serve as a dangerous coping mechanism for those working through mental health conditions, so we are pairing Martinelli’s non-alcohol Sparkling Apple -Peach with this post. Tasting notes below!
Sparkling-Apple Peach is like biting into a ripe peach on a hot summer day. This carbonated, 100% juice is pressed from U.S. grown fresh apples and blended with refreshing peach juice.