I just love the month of May. Typically during this time of year, the weather is consistently warmer but not too, too hot. In Atlanta, all kinds of festivals take place including the Atlanta Jazz Festival and Caribbean Carnival. It’s my birthday month! This week is National Women’s Health Week but the entire month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
Ladies, I understand the struggle too well. Our mental health well-being is often not a priority. We care for our families, pursue our career goals and go about coping with the usual stressors of life. On top of that, and especially for women, our personal traumas—ranging from breakups/divorces to loss to addiction to financial instability—are further compounded by disparities in access to social, economic, health and educational resources. It can feel like climbing halfway up a mountain only to get knocked back down miles away from the bottom of the slope. And that’s a feeling most acutely felt by women.
Consider the maternal mortality rate of black women or the fact that a celebrity like Serena Williams isn’t even immune to this disturbing statistic. I don’t have to list the other unique challenges we encounter and cope with; we know very well what we face. I also know how these facts of our life experiences can take their toll mentally. Many of us are suffering in silence, not wanting to reveal our pain, not recognizing it in each other, not knowing who to go to for help, and not wishing to reveal any type of vulnerability. We think we are protecting ourselves but we are not.
Not facing personal mental health issues is a part of the reason that we are more susceptible to physical illness such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and fertility issues. Our hair can be whipped and we can dress ourselves to the nines, but nothing can dress up feeling terribly inside. We can exercise and eat right, but if we’re not doing something about our mental well-being then we only stand to add to our suffering.
There has always been a stigma about mental health in our community. That stigma is based on myths. It’s not weak to be depressed or suffer from anxiety; it’s being human. Talking to a therapist or psychiatrist does not make you a damaged person; seeking and getting help means caring about every aspect of your personal health and wellness. It’s okay to have religion and talk to a therapist; having faith doesn’t mean that you can’t speak with a professional counselor. Also, speaking to a professional counselor doesn’t mean you have to stop believing in a higher power.
Because Women’s Health Week is this week, I’m challenging myself and my fellow women to improve our overall health by focusing on and observing Mental Health Awareness Month. All this month, our blog will feature information like these statistics on mental health illness in African American communities here and resources you can access to learn more about therapeutic options near you like the website Therapy for Black Girls. My blog will also feature posts from women who are sharing their mental health stories in the hopes that we can all work toward mental and emotional wellness together. Please comment and share so that we can keep this much-needed conversation spreading and going.
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