#BlackMindsMatter - One Platform, Multiple Purposes
At the beginning of this year, I told myself I would do more things to get myself out of my comfort zone. One of the things I decided to do was participate in a pageant here on campus. For a while I thought I wanted to a series of blogs documenting my pageant journey, but I decided that I'll just do one blog once everything ends to talk about the experience as a whole. However, one thing I did wanna talk about sooner rather than later was my platform.
After a lot of thinking, I decided on the platform Black Minds Matter. These three simple words carry a lot of weight, but can also be interpreted in different ways. The more I think about it, the more things I think of that can be grouped into larger categories, but I'm only going to mention two of them in this post.
If you know anything about me, then you know I love and am proud of being a Black woman in science. I thought about taking my platform in this direction because of how it relates to one of my many career goals. Even though it is getting better, science and medicine are still very white and male-dominated arenas, and it's common for feelings of otherness to exist. I've experienced Imposter Syndrome on more than one occasion at various conferences and internships I've participated in, and I know I'm not alone. One day, I hope to hold a position where I am able to create and implement different initiatives and policies to diversify these spaces so that less and less POC and women have those negative feelings when they're more than qualified to be in these rooms. Our country is getting more diverse, and medical professionals and scientists need to do the same.
The other interpretation of my platform, and the direction I'm taking it in for the pageant, is Black mental health. Black Minds Matter will be an initiative focused on destigmatizing and raising awareness of mental illness in the Black community. This isn't a new topic here on the blog (see breakthrough eight & breakthrough eleven), but it's still one that is very important to me, which is why I'm going to keep talking about it. After taking Mental Health as a class here for my other major, I learned more about different mental illnesses and how they affect different people in different ways. I was also becoming more aware of some mental health struggles of my own, which made me want to share what I've learned with others around me even more. I chose to take my platform in this direction as opposed to another because this would allow me to do more for more members of my student body. The young adult age range (about 18-24 years old) is where we see the onset of a lot of conditions or where we see preexisting conditions get worse, and when you think about it, it makes sense. These are the ages where a lot of life and a lot of changes occur around the same time. People are graduating from high school, entering college, trying to stay in college, graduating, moving on to new chapters of life, and just overall adjusting to new-found adulthood. It can be stressful. When you add that to other life events like losing a loved one or something else that's tragic, for a lot of us, this is the first time in our lives when we start to see our mental health really begin to suffer.
In the Black community, mental illnesses aren't always recognized as real or valid. When compared to diabetes, heart disease, cancers, and other illnesses that ravage our community, things like anxiety and depression are not as recognized, and when they are, we're told to pray them away or that we're tired or whatever else people may say to us. Well guess what? Mental health is real and Black mental health is important. Our mental health affects our physical health in ways people sometimes don't think about. Our sleeping habits (or lack thereof). Our appetites. Our weight. Our energy levels. Our immune systems. In addition to our bodies, our day-to-day lives are affected. Our ability to focus. Our motivation in work or school. Our ability to do well at work or school. Our relationships with family, friends, and significant others. Drug and alcohol use for those who try to self-medicate. Finances for people who miss work or spend their money trying to self-medicate. The list goes on and on. Dealing with mental illness doesn't make somebody crazy, nor does it give anybody else the right to ridicule and talk crap about them just because life is happening. There is nothing wrong with taking prescribed medications to help with different disorders if that's what needs to be done. There is nothing wrong with talking to a therapist. Truth be told, I wish I had a therapist now and I'm currently working on finding one, and I also plan to get in/stay in therapy once I get into somebody's medical school. Life is hard outchea and sometimes it would help a lot to have an unbiased professional to help you work through some stuff and figure some things out for your own good. Struggling with mental illness is more than just being in your feelings, and it's time for more of us to start treating it more seriously.
It's time to put some things in perspective. Let's talk numbers.
Despite only making up roughly 13% of the US population, Black people are 20% more likely to deal with mental health issues as adults than the rest of the population. They are also more likely to experience more feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than their white counterparts. 25% of Black people seek help for their mental health, although I believe this number is an overestimate because of the amount of people who underreport their mental health status or those who are mis- or undiagnosed. Even though Black teens are less likely to die from suicide than their white counterparts, there are more likely to actually attempt suicide (8.3% for Black teens vs. 6.2% for white teens). Compared to white people, Black people are also more frequently diagnosed with schizophrenia than mood disorders (like anxiety or depression), even when they express the same symptoms as their white peers. Only 1 in 3 Black people who needs help with mental illness will actually receive it. This is also related to the number of Black and impoverished people who don't receive proper healthcare due to the type of or lack of insurance, but that is its own conversation. Black people with different mental illness are also more likely to be incarcerated than people of other races, even when mass incarceration is already a huge issue for our community as a whole. When it comes to professionals in these areas, the numbers are way lower than I would have expected. Only 6.2% of psychologists, 5.6% of advanced-practice psychiatric nurses, 12% of social workers, and 21.3% of psychiatrists are people from minority groups. In terms of national organizations, only 3.7% of the American Psychiatric Association's members and 1.5% of members of the American Psychological Association are Black (according to the National Association on Mental Illness [NAMI]).
*This information is from data collected over recent years, so some of the exact percentages may have changed depending on the source. I am also an educated Queen who does not plagiarize, so the links where I found this information, along with a PDF containing more info will be attached below.*
As I bring this post to a close, I just want to make it clear that whether or not I'm crowned the winner of this pageant, I will still continue do my part in destigmatizing and raising awareness of mental illness in the Black community in different ways. In a society that constantly tries to diminish and erase us, we have to constantly remind ourselves that Black lives and Black minds do matter.
Live life. Be great. Flourish.