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Close-up of a Black woman's face, showing depression.

When You’re Black and Depressed, It’s Even More Difficult to Get Help

Close-up of a Black woman's face, showing depression.

Photo by Sheena876. Creative Commons license.

Content Warning: Suicide

Depression sucks.

It’s the reason I’ve screwed up in the past and will screw up again.

It’s the reason it’s been hard for me to do everything and anything in life.

Getting up to take a shower can be  a challenge. I can’t eat as much food as I used to. Talking to people through Skype or on the phone can be  difficult. I want to die and constantly think about death (without a plan). Sometimes I ask myself why I wake up. I’ve seen myself enter this downward spiral and I’m constantly trying to pull myself out of it. Slowly I’ve been getting out. This isn’t the first time, but it never stops being alarming.

Here’s the thing: I am NOT the face of what someone who suffers from depression looks like. I am Black, more specifically Black Caribbean. This is where more issues come up. Some say prayer gets rid of depression. Or that you can “grow out of it.” I attempted prayer. I attempted trying to imagine it away, and I dodged seeking help. But these things did not work. Instead, it made me angrier at a God that I didn’t know existed and it made my already worsening depression symptoms 10 times worse.

This is the common narrative of so many Black folks.

And why wouldn’t it be? In the lens of a lot of spaces, mental illness is seen as some “white people shit.” We’re told that we need to be strong constantly and never show signs of weakness. We have been taught that we cannot have these mental illness, that it’s just a fallacy. If we have depression, we’re “lazy.” Anxiety? Nah, we just have an attitude. And personality disorders is just some false shit that people have made up. Even when it comes to looking for services when we decide to seek help, we are less likely to be seen because providers believe that stereotype as well. But with ignorance comes violence.

Beliefs like this are literally killing us.

To this day, I don’t outwardly mention my mental illnesses in with my family. The folks in my family know that they exist and that I take medication for it, but I don’t tell them specifics. Even when they try to understand, they don’t understand enough. Especially coming from an island where it was much safer and more common to be untreated than get medical treatment, they have a very limited view on what mental illness may look like.

Related: Don’t Come for Black Lives Matter; Grieving is Not One-Dimensional

On top of that, they are influenced by the media. Not only is the face of mental illness a white person, but when Blacks or people of color are shown to be mentally ill, they are given less of a sympathetic view. Empathy and sympathy doesn’t exist for a lot of Black folks in the media and it is only recently that I have seen positive views of the negative side effects, without the demonization.

When you’re Black and depressed, not only are you having massive breakdowns about how to clean your room and waking up in the morning wishing that death could happen, but you’re also wishing that you could be as “strong” as we are told to be. When you’re Black and depressed, you suffer in silence. You constantly think about hanging yourself with rope or a laptop cord. You think about the weight of the world that you have to carry through the day. You walk around taking selfies, trying to be carefree like the folks on your timeline — but you know those smiles are fake. And you can tell that their smiles are fake too, because they’re trying to do the same thing as you. The messages they have been taught are the same.

And it’s not okay.

For the Black and depressed folks out there, I want to validate the pain you feel. Your mental health is valid, even when no one else thinks so. You deserve to have a space to heal, a space to live and thrive. This world has been cruel to us, but it does not mean we deserve it. My face of depression is one of Blackness. Our ancestors have suffered trauma before us. And to be blunt, we will continue to suffer because we live in a world not meant for our bodies to exist.

But that does not mean you cannot get support. You deserve support. And I support you.


Mickey Valentine is an activist of Jamaican descent born and raised in the Bronx, NY and currently lives in Somerville, MA. Some things (besides angry) that can describe them : a polyamorous, nonbinary, queer disabled femme who promotes the importance of honesty and vulnerability. They’re down to talk about animation, youth development, kink, gentrification, disability justice and reproductive justice-related things.

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