I've taught myself to just stay silent.
There's thought to be around more than half a million young people aged 11-16 in the UK with mental disorders, but how many of them are black? Mental health is hard to maintain and when you lose control of your mental health, it could get really bad. Usually, we're told to talk to a teacher or a parent if we don't feel ourselves but it's not as easy for black people as sometimes, showing signs of mental illness can be seen as being weak. I spoke to Kiara and Kaliko, two members of the black community who suffer from depresssion, mild Asperger's and anxiety,about why mental health is such a taboo subject amongst black people.
I asked them if they'd gone to a doctor or a therapist for help. Kiara told me she had gone to a therapist but it proved unsuccessful and cost too much. "She said the same things every time," she told me. "But it was a white friend who recommended me her since she attends that therapist and what she described her like was not the impression I got. So, I don't know, she just treated us differently?"
Kaliko told me she had been diagnosed for both depression and mild Aspergers, and that the Aspergers diagnosis isn't yet official as her mum won't help her. "She didn't want to accept it, so when I turned 18 she said to just do it myself." Both girls were given tips on how to deal with their mental health. Kaliko was told to "try and focus on the future and to try grounding" for her anxiety attacks whereas Kiara was told to "smile more" because it made her more beautiful and to convert her bad energy into something good.
When asked whether or not they agree that white cis teens are the symbol of teenage mental illness, I received two very different answers. "Absolutely not," said Kiara. "I feel as if black women are already called angry, therefore my disorder is seen as me having an attitude problem, I don't fit the slot of someone with a mental disorder and I feel as if it's because black parents don't believe in it. I didn't get as much sympathy as white, bright hair coloured people because I'm asking for attention whereas they get sympathised and that annoys me." Kaliko simply just said "Always."
I then asked them why they thought mental health wasn't a frequent topic of conversation within the black community. Kaliko thought it was because mental illness is seen as a "white people thing". "When I finally built the bravery to tell my friends that I had a self harm issue they said they thought only white people did that and laughed. Black people are subliminally taught to act and talk a certain way. The second someone steps out of that, something is wrong with them." Kiara told me she thought it's ignored by black parents. "There's some sort of disappointment when you have a child of disorder for some black families, like you've failed. Also most black families feel as if disorders are a new age thing."
Talking to someone about your mental health can be scary and nearly impossible but once it's done it'll feel as though a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. "Something I did that helped," Kaliko said, "was starting this account along with another secret account I have with no followers. It's basically a diary. I post a random pic or video with the caption of me basically venting."
Kiara advises a different approach. "You should tell one person then gradually tell others. If you are in an unsafe environment where you can get kicked out or hurt for being different then don't tell. There's a lot of people going through the same thing as you and just having that assurance would help you feel better. Also always make yourself number one priority."
To me, it seems as though that the case isn't just mental health not being talked about, its also about people receiving inadequate help whether it's down to lack of privilege or lack of understanding. In order for people to get help, we must be able to overcome our embarrasment and actually talk about the elephant in the room.