Andrea, 25, had turned up at a police station confused and disoriented. She had one question, and kept repeating it: “Please can you help me look for a job?”
I was the “responsible adult” when she was sectioned later that day.Well, I guess it made the desk sergeant’s day. Must be better to have them arrive at your station rather than have to go out looking for ‘em!
Having grown up with Andrea, I offered to go to the station. “I’m really tired,” she told me, when I saw her. “You’re not the only one,” I thought. I am on Prozac and antipsychotics; one of my closest friends takes a high dose of Venlafaxine. Two girls I grew up with have been sectioned, one on multiple occasions. A further five are on antidepressants and my sister regularly has panic attacks. Another old friend, I’ve heard, has schizophrenia. Aside from mental health problems, we all have one thing in common: we are all black women in our 20s and 30s, and we can all testify to being “tired”.Good grief! Though how much of this is the change in expectations of there being ‘a pill to cure all ills’ available on demand is left unsaid, at least until the end of the article.
The author is – of course!- convinced that this is all down to disadvantage and racism.
Do black women face an increased risk in terms of their mental health? “The simple answer is “yes’”, says Marcel Vige, head of equality improvement at Mind. “The figures around black men are high, but they are also very high for black women too.”
I started a WhatsApp group called “HELP!” and added all the black women I know. I wanted to find out what was driving us insane. Situational circumstances can often trigger depression in people of any background, but are there cultural and social issues that can induce poor mental health in black women in particular? I wanted the group to help me understand what was going on.And of course, her expectations were immediately reinforced. Clearly, no-one ever said ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’, or she’d have mentioned it.
I was immediately inundated with messages: “Why do I have to change who I am so that people don’t find me intimidating or aggressive?” wrote Michelle, a 27-year-old teacher.
“It’s tiring to have to always conform to get ahead.” “I can’t embrace who I am, fully,” typed Grace, a 24-year-old PA. “I need to make sure people are always comfortable with me.”
“I have to prove that I can do the same thing as a white person,” messaged Naomi, who is 31 and works as a marketing executive in the city. “Often what I say will be ignored, then someone who is not black will say it and all of a sudden it makes sense!”Provide a forum for people to whinge and moan and complain that something is everyone else’s fault, and you get whingers and moaners. Fancy!
Each of these women are educated to degree level or more. Each have confessed to “playing a part” in order to get a job and be accepted while there. As a result, they feel they deliberately diminish what they perceive to be their “black self” in order to progress.Hmmm, are they really ‘educated to degree level’, as we historically understand the term? Or are they simply the recipients of worthless degrees, like this other shining example?
And isn’t it surprising that none have thought to take a job in Ghana or Zimbabwe, where they will presumably find no barriers whatsoever to being ‘their black self’..?
One of the girls in the “HELP!” group told a story of how she’d had a heated argument with a colleague; both of them had raised their voices but because she was gesticulating, her colleague told her to “stop being aggressive.” She explains how, “I had forgotten who and where I was. I was deeply disappointed that I got tagged with one of the most popular terms associated with black women and I have not argued a point since.”In this culture, gesticulating is indeed considered aggressive. Why, then, are these women – who have presumably all grown up in England, in a culture saturated by the norms of the mainstream – seemingly unable to refrain from it? Why is it even an issue? Should it not, by now, have been ‘bred out’?
It seems, however, that these women are out of step with their own families, too:
I asked my mum what she thought when I first told her I had been diagnosed with depression. She said the family were all united in their sympathy for me, but wondered what I had to complain about. “I didn’t understand,” she said. “To us, you were brought up with more than your parents and other children left in Ghana. To us you have everything – what do you have to be sad about? ”Heh! Good for mum, there.
From the messages I received on WhatsApp, guilt was a common theme. “There is a consciousness that follows you around,” said Grace. “If you feel blue or sad, you have to remind yourself that a family member somewhere else might be going hungry.” From experience, if you don’t remember, your family will be sure to remind you.If these neurotic women listened to their families more, and to their equally neurotic friends less, I think we’d find this so-called ‘epidemic’ of so-called mental illness would reduce considerably…
H/T: @MentalHealthCop via Twitter