We just came out of Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in July. But in the last week, the discussion on mental health has been at the forefront when it comes to personally navigating the struggle. We witnessed the transparency of our young queens Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles when they momentarily stepped away from their athletic obligations to focus on their mental well-being. It’s a reminder that we must take mental health seriously and continue to have open conversations about this topic; without shame or stigma. And for melanated people, it’s crucial we have dialogue about this issue.
In our families.
In our community.
In our churches.
And in our personal life.
Because I try to walk it like I talk it, I’ll start.
I wrestled with depression and anxiety off and on for years. I didn’t realize what was going at first. For instance, one summer I came home from college and had zero motivation to do anything. I was continuously sad. I lay on the sofa for hours at a time. I rarely got dressed. Although I knew I was depressed over some heartbreak — and suffering with low esteem on top of an identity crisis – I refused to seek help. Yet when my mother inquired if I was depressed, I downplayed it. Looking back, I know it was shame that kept me suffering in silence.
So I masked my pain by turning up. Combining unhealthy relationships, excessive drinking and smoking weed -- yes, I did inhale – was a downward spiral. What I thought was simply a “fun” lifestyle was self-medicating. I wasn’t alone; for many people, it’s easier to access substances than to admit you need therapy or medical treatment.
In my mid-20’s, a near breakdown caused me to finally be honest about my mental health. I sought both Jesus and treatment.
I was briefly put on an anti-depressant. I started pastoral counseling. I began to learn coping mechanisms. I felt extremely better but it wasn’tthe end of the battle. The difference is by talking about it and receiving help, I’ve learned to manage depression when it hits. I’m tactical in my response because I know my mental health matters.
To me — and those around me.
Three things to remember as you manage depression:
Accept your struggle without (false) guilt or shame. Depression is not a character flaw. In order to learn how to thrive despite depression, it’s imperative to be honest with yourself. Depression is also not a reflection of failed faith, nor does it mean you are less than who God says you are. (Sidebar: Even the prophet Elijah wrestled with depression. Read 1 Kings 19:4.)
Acknowledge your triggers. Identifying contributing factors has been a way I stay proactive when anxiety or depression hit. For instance, when I have a lack of adequate and quality sleep, I know I am prone to fall into a depressed state. When it’s ‘that’ time of month, I anticipate the possibility of a short stint with depression. In those moments, I am more intentional about practicing self-care. I don’t add additional events to my schedule. I surround myself with positive people. I make more time for what I enjoy like exercise and reading. But whatever has the potential to send you into a spiral, name it. Then counter back with actions that aid in your well-being.
Activate a response plan. If you know you are prone to depression, have a plan in place to address it immediately. This may mean having a therapist or counselor you can readily connect with. If you’re receiving medical treatment, keep in contact with your doctor. Note any questionable changes in case there needs to be another course of action. Make sure you have a circle of entrusted individuals who support you and keeps you from self-isolation.
Whatever your personal plan, remember that being proactive can create a sense of peace, knowing you are participating in your own mental health management.
If you struggle with anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue, please seek help. It’s okay to not be okay. You’re not alone.