Stigma In Mental Health: Being Diagnosed In Communities Of Color
Being diagnosed with a mental illness often seems to be the end of the world, a stain that you just cannot seem to remove, that everyone can see and judge you for. This is definitely true for communities of color. There is much stigma surrounding mental health and disorders, which typically results in people being afraid to have conversations about their experience or reach out for help. This hesitation may make their situation worse.
The Stigma In Mental Health: Being Diagnosed In Communities Of Color
To start, many people believe that a mental illness is a sign of weakness. As women and women of colour there is a vast range of problems that we face on a daily basis. Sexism, racism, colourism, objectification from men, or even just figuring out where the next meal is coming from are just to name a few. Therefore, being diagnosed and addressing these psychological disorders seem to pale in comparison. In our minds, there are harder ills we must face.
Many times we hear that these are just things we experience, and we need to get through it, and ‘be stronger’. To speak out is like admitting to a flaw of some kind, like you have failed as a person of color. Our ethnicity and gender mean that we cannot be open to struggling emotionally and seek help. This is then another problem that we must handle alone, making the attempt to face each day even that more difficult. Conforming to the stigma in mental health is far from easy. Not only is there a psychological issue, but also a denial of the freedom to just be and to try to find guidance where it is provided. Thus we bottle up these emotions, shutting down until the day we may explode.
Then there is faith. Often times when we go to our friends, family, or spiritual leaders, and their main recommendation is prayer. It is not to say that prayer does not work. It does, but God, or whatever higher power you subscribe to, gave us the capability to learn and help each other. If there are professionals accessible to us, whether it be a physical or mental ailment, why not give them a try? We can even take it a step further and combine them both to have a multidisciplinary treatment plan, the best of both worlds.
Lastly, the stigma everyone is familiar with: Persons with mental disorders are bonkers, cray-cray, off their rockers.. No one wants to have those labels. Usually, these persons who have a diagnosable syndrome or disorder, become homeless as a result of not receiving the right treatment and end up turned out by their families who may not be able to manage. The interesting thing is, there is a recognition that something is wrong, that they require help, but the idea that they are mad overpowers the need to help. Instead, to others they are considered broken, cracked, and this results in them continuing to be ostracized by society, living a life struggling to fend for themselves, on the streets and usually alone. Persons turn up their noses when they approach and refuse to even spare change. When we consider the possibility of that being us, it can come as little surprise when we squash the idea of reaching out.
Altogether, this creates an environment of fear; fear of labelling and fear of rejection.
The hard truth is communities of colour are more susceptible to these illnesses and less likely to seek aid. Due to discrimination, many end up without a job, encounter severe bullying, harassment, and severe violence. To top it off, there is limited health care, insufficient education as it concerns mental health, and health care facilities that cannot provide adequate care for persons from such a diverse background due to bias. The end result is a higher risk of poor mental health and a widespread misunderstanding of symptoms, the illnesses on a whole, and the effects they can have on the individual and others. Therefore, these views are formed, continue to spread and foster feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt and avoidance.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but just like anything along this trying journey of life, it will be far from stress-free. It will require stepping out of your comfort zone and facing the stigma of mental health diagnosis head-on in order to get better.
Overcoming The Stigma Of Diagnosis To Seek Treatment
That leads us to the first step: seeking treatment. If we lived our lives afraid of labels and what others thought of us, we would be so limited and unhappy. We must recognize that we still need to live for ourselves and sometimes that requires help from a professional.
The next step is to educate ourselves and share this knowledge with others. This lack of knowledge allows for these views to continue to grow. Pursuing education on the subject has the potential to not only prevent ourselves from falling victim to the words of others but also provide help to different persons so that they do not eventually become victims. Then we can take it a step further and say something when we witness direct stigmatization. This can be either face-to-face or on social media. Wherever it happens, we can help to stop it.
Speaking openly about mental health is essential. The aim of stigma is to prevent the necessary dialogue about these issues, which results in a space of judgement and fear. But instead, talking and sharing can hinder their development, especially through testimonials. Sharing your personal story can be one of the most effective ways to fight against stigma. Encourage others to express themselves as well and not to shy away from the opportunity to go to a therapist or psychiatrist and recuperate.
It is also important to not let the stigma of diagnosis mold you. All this does is nurture shame and self-doubt. We carry the stigma inside of us: the notion that we are crazy, weak, and that this is a punishment from God. Of course, carrying this does not help. One of the most difficult parts to deal with is getting rid of these negative thoughts that are pushed onto us by others and that we push onto ourselves. It can feel so comfortable and safe to isolate ourselves because we think that we are not worthy. Attempting to shed these feelings is a step in the right direction, actively speaking positivity over ourselves, and not letting these stigmas obstruct our path to recovery. A tip that I have found helpful is to not equate yourself about the illness. It can be better to say that “I have schizophrenia” than “I am schizophrenic”, preventing you from being defined by the illness, which in turn may prevent you from succumbing to stigma.
We must stop sweeping the idea of psychological disorders underneath the rug. It does not go away, it still exists, and must be addressed sooner or later. The timing simply dictates the extent of its effects. This practice does not improve our communities but places us in a toxic cycle that we must strive to break.
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