One of my all-time favorite movies is Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. YA-YA!!! I loved that movie so much that if it weren’t for her father’s strong objection, Gabriella would have been named Sidda Lee. The tight bond that the women maintained despite challenges that tested the bounds of their friendship is one of the things that drew me in. The other thing that drew me in was the deep envy I felt watching Sidda Lee’s mother, Vivi, “drop her basket” (Ya-Ya terminology for having a nervous breakdown) without judgment. There were no side eyes, eye rolls, or anything that gave the impression that Vivi’s inability to cope mentally was a sign of weakness. I cannot remember if the term “white privilege” was being thrown around when I first saw Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, but I definitely walked away wholeheartedly believing the outcome of me “dropping my basket” would have been entirely different because I was a “STRONG BLACK WOMAN”.
In my world as a “STRONG BLACK WOMAN” if there is any sign that you might be coming unglued mentally, reinforcement is called in to remind you of the “STRONG BLACK WOMAN CODE” you agreed to follow upon initiation into the club. Unfortunately when the reinforcement team comes in to remind you of the “CODE” they are not there to coddle you or entertain your nonsense. They are there to make you feel so damn guilty and weak for having the audacity to acknowledge that you are not feeling well mentally. Because in our world, STRONG BLACK WOMEN don’t have time for being mentally unhealthy. I know this because I have served on the reinforcement team in the past.
Fortunately, time and experience have shown me that the reinforcement team is dead wrong in their approach! The fact that I opted to buck the status quo not only got me removed from the reinforcement team, my STRONG BLACK WOMAN status is under review. Whatever the outcome, I refuse to be silent on something so crucial to our well being as women.
Here are a few interesting facts I gathered from the National Alliance on Mental Illness about mental health in the African American community:
- Over a 15-year period of time, suicide rates increased 233 percent among African Americans aged 10-14 compared to 120 percent among Caucasian Americans in the same age group.
- Social circumstances often serve as an indicator of the likelihood of developing a mental illness. African Americans are disproportionately more likely to experience social circumstances that increase their chances of developing a mental illness.
- Exposure to violence increases the risk of developing a mental illness; over 25 percent of African-American children exposed to violence meet criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, adult African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult Caucasian Americans. Despite this, African Americans are less likely than Whites to seek out treatment and more likely to end treatment prematurely.
Without our mental health intact, we cannot LIVE, we cannot LOVE, we cannot EMPOWER! Who wants to exist without the ability to do those things?