By: Nani Milani
Depression is often misunderstood and over looked within the black community because of the harsh views associated with it. Therefore many in the black community often ignore the possible signs of mental illness. A study done by the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health showed that blacks are 20% more likely to suffer from serious forms of mental illness than others.
I’ve been struggling with depression from the time I was in elementary school (I’m 18 now), so I’ve been battling it for a long time. At age 10 I remember crying out of nowhere and couldn’t understand why. On play dates with my friends I felt like all my energy was sucked out of me which left me puzzled.
On outings with my family I sat in the car, always covering my face. I wanted to be invisible, but at the same time I wanted to be social like everyone else. My family used to question me about my behavior, but I had no explanation because I didn’t understand what was going on. As I got older things got worse. I went from always finishing my homework on time to not being able to finish a page of homework. I isolated myself and slept in bed for 10+ hours and skipped meals because food would make me nauseous.
At the age of 12 on a family trip to Florida, I had an episode of frightening and irrational thoughts that I just couldn’t shake. As the trip progressed it got worse, and it eventally got so bad I had several panic attacks in one day. All I could think was, “why won’t this go away?!”. This was a trip, we were supposed to be having fun!
I became suicidal and decided that I couldn’t stand to live anymore. In my 12 year old mind I thought you could get a shot to die, and I told my mom how I felt. Alarmed, she called the doctor and we had to end the trip early. I was feeling guilty and when we got back home I went to see a psychologist who diagnosed me with severe depression. I was relieved that we could finally put a name to what was going on with me.
My family members and psychiatric doctors were unempathetic towards me. When I opened up to my family members about my struggle with depression I was judged harshly. I was viewed as being lazy, always complaining, weak, and was told to stop making excuses for myself.
My psychiatrist asked me if I was doing it for attention. Another one told me I just “have too much time on my hands”. In 2013 everything took a major turn for the worse. I went to my psychiatrist (who swears to this day that she doesn’t know me after everything spiraled out of control) one day and she prescribed me a psych med (big mistake).
The first time I took it I felt a little weird but ignored it. When she doubled the dose within a week it was as if my mom was raising a toddler all over again. It was like my brain wanted to shut off. My irrational thoughts increased to a frightening level, I was having a hard time talking and it seemed like my family was speaking to an elementary school child with a major stuttering problem. I was unable to chew properly, every time I went to chew my brain wouldn’t tell me to continue chewing so I sat with the food in my mouth until my mom encouraged me to chew.
I could barely swallow because my brain wasn’t telling me to swallow so when I tried to drink water I held it in my mouth until my mom told me to swallow. I couldn’t take care of my personal hygiene properly, it was impossible. I couldn’t do my hair, brush my teeth, use the bathroom, or take a shower, my mom had to do all of that for me. Just thinking about it now makes me embarrassed. I couldn’t walk or stand on my own and every time I tried to I would fall if someone wasn’t there to hold me up.
My mom didn’t take me to the hospital right of way because of the lack of information given to us by the doctors about the risks associated with the meds, it being a “crap shoot” (which they told us AFTER everything turned sour), and the black box warning that we later found out about.
We called the psychiatric center and they told us to come in. My psychiatrist refused to come to see me for an hour because she was scared of me. How she could be scared when she was the one responsible for everything happening to me was beyond me. When she finally came down she sent someone in the room first and followed. When they finally saw how bad my condition was they advised my mom to take me to the hospital.
When we got to the hospital the doctors ran a lot of tests on me and explained that I could be having an adverse reaction to the meds but that it was “rare” so it was unlikely that that’s what was happening to me. My mom had to force the truth out of him.
Finally he admitted that I was in fact having an adverse reaction to the meds. While I was sitting in a cold, see-through room with random strangers looking at me I started to feel uncomfortable (mind you I’m not looking my best) so I asked my mom to close the curtain to the room. A security guard quickly stopped my mom and told her that she couldn’t close the curtain because he had to watch me.
I had to be in the hospital for 10+ hours so this whole time I’m being watched by a security guard to prevent me from doing anything bad while I couldn’t even stand let alone walk to try to do anything at all! A long while later I was released from the hospital with a slow, strenuous healing process ahead.
Three years later here I am to tell you that if you are someone suffering from mental illness don’t listen to the harsh opinions of others who think that because you’re black your problems are insignificant and that you have no right to talk about the issues you face. You are not a robot, you have feelings and the issues you face do matter and mental illness isn’t a myth, It does exist within the black community.
It’s important to identify the signs of depression to get the appropriate help you or a loved one may need before it’s too late and someone is 6 feet under. Depression is a silent killer, refusing to stay silent paved the road to my recovery. Below are a few of things to look out for that could be possible signs of depression.
1. Extreme Isolation
2. Excessive sleeping
3. Lack of energy
4. Skipping meals
5. Mood swings
6. Loss of interest
7. Low self esteem
8. Trouble thinking clearly
10. Suicidal thoughts/attempts
If you find yourself experiencing any of these please speak up and let someone know.