Recently, a young person whom I love and highly respect posted on Facebook that she was done hiding in the shadows about her challenge with a mental health diagnosis. In her post, she decried the need to refrain from identification with what is known in behavioral health circles as an SMI (serious mental illness).
Those words, in and of themselves, are stigma-promoting, but when there is a cultural overlay, especially in communities of color, the anxiety around revealing one’s challenges rises exponentially.
Reading her post triggered a lot of personal feelings for me, having been diagnosed with one of those SMIs in the early ‘90s—an unfortunate symptom of childhood trauma. I thought about all of the misinformation that is out there about mental health, and what having been given a diagnosis means in communities of color when that health is less than optimal. I thought about all of the loaded, derogatory language that is part of the fabric of society (e.g., “he’s so crazy,” “she must be out of her mind”)—phrases that so often trip off the tongue with little thought of how they contribute to cementing building blocks in houses of shame. Those houses are solidly built in communities of color; there is little wonder why my young friend thought long and hard before revealing that her behavior was not motivated by a desire to be away from people, but is a coping strategy to heal herself when she is feeling unwell.
I applaud her, and she received many messages of support on her page from her friends and family (including me). But I continue to ask myself why, especially in communities of color, we consistently stand up and cheer for people when they reveal to us that they have achieved a milestone of living free of alcohol and other drugs, but rarely for those of us who identify ourselves as in recovery from a mental health challenge. For those of us who share mental health successes, especially in communities of color, there are few cheers, few accolades, and no medallions. When we accept that good mental health is a key element in the spectrum of optimal health in general, maybe some of this stigma will fall away; but until then, people like my young friend and I will continue to stand up strong and to chip away at those foundational stones until the houses of stigma crumble and fall into dust.
For more information or positive support for young adults, contact a local crisis line or check out these national resources:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depressive, obsessive-compulsive, and trauma-related disorders through education, practice, and research.
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is the leading peer-directed national organization focusing on the two most prevalent mental health conditions, depression and bipolar disorder.
- Mental Health America is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental health challenges and to promoting the overall mental health for all.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of people affected by mental health challenges.
- OK2TALK creates a community for teens and young adults struggling with mental health challenges and encourages them to talk about and share what they’re experiencing through personal stories. Creative content includes inspirational poetry, quotes, photos, videos, song lyrics, and messages of support in a safe, moderated space.