The Black Face of Depression: Common Phrases African Americans Hear About Depression That Are Actually More Harmful Than Beneficial

By: Shaunese Johnson

“Why are you depressed? If our people made it through slavery, we can make it through anything.”

“You should take your troubles to Jesus, not some stranger/psychiatrist.”

Depression. The silent and deadly killer. Depression seems to be a taboo subject, especially in the African American community. We clearly see it in the community, media, etc. yet the topic is ignored until it’s too late to save the individual. In life, African American women face obstacles that aren’t seen with the naked eye including racism, sexism, financial instability, equality, etc. Despite trying to have it “all together,” we still face a lot.

In a recent blog post, I described my own experience with anxiety and how it greatly impacted my life. I always wanted to keep things to myself, or either be too “busy” to express my own feelings. I began withdrawing from everyone, because I didn’t want to feel like a “burden” or be considered as “weak.” After a while I got tired of talking only to be misunderstood.  

From my experience with this, I found that often times  people who try to help often end up saying things that are more harmful than beneficial. If you find yourself talking to someone with depression these are a few things that you should avoid saying.

1. “You’re just in a bad mood.”

Depression goes beyond than just having “the blues.” People often get the impression that depression is simply a “phase.” While there is a such thing as “seasonal depression,” it’s important to keep in mind that ALL depression should be taken seriously. Depression also goes beyond more than just a mood or a feeling. As African American women we are already seen as being “bitter” or “angry.” These stereotypes create dangerous notions and “cures” suggested by others of what we should do in order to overcome this “bitterness,” or “anger.”

2. “You don’t need a therapist.”/You shouldn’t take medications.”

“The African American woman who seeks therapy is weak.” This is just one of the few misconceptions in the African American community. Yet I always say admitting your pain and vulnerability is actually a sign of strength. In the African American community, we can’t compare or make excuses about the foundation of our mental health. As a result, people have now “normalized” symptoms of depression.

By all means people can perhaps overcome depression naturally. Exercise, eating healthy, sunlight, traveling, etc. can all be healthy ways to improve mental health. However, if a person chooses medication we can’t be against a decision that could potentially be lifesaving.

Keep in mind that individuals with depression already face a mind full of questions, thoughts, and even contemplate the worth of their life. What they really need is support and a sense of understanding, especially if they have been constantly rejected.

3. “He/She overcame it. So can you!”

With social media we get a glimpse into the lives of others, and what they could be going through. Some individuals even find a sense of relief when they tell their friends about their issues because it’s a way for them to reach out. Maybe that can work for some people, but not everybody heals the same way. Keep in mind people post what they want you to see so comparison is useless. Everybody heals at different times and whether it takes weeks, months, or even a few years, it’s never a waste of time when it comes time to healing properly.

4. “You just need a man/ a new job/ a car/ go out more…”

When it comes time to depression, even the slightest activity like  getting out of bed or putting a smile on your face at work can become a difficult task. While some suggestions are made with good intentions, keep in mind that these are only temporary forms of happiness. Maybe going out can be fun, but what happens when you are alone? Maybe being a relationship would be nice, but what happens if that person leaves you? I often struggled with this myself, but when I was alone I realized I only had myself. When I became stripped of materialistic objects, I found my true passions and began my own journey to self-discovery.

Unfortunately, it can be impossible to avoid depression. Even though we greatly appreciate the well meaning words from friends and family,  we sometimes have to learn to formulate and discover our own methods of overcoming depression. What I have learned is to take it one day at a time and to do what makes my soul happy. Instead of seeking validation from others based on what we “should” do, we have to learn to do what we want based our own well-being and happiness.

 

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Guest
Isabelle
4 years 2 months ago

Good Afternoon Ms Johnson,

I am a student journalist writing an article about race education in schools and how it affects how minorities/ black students think about themselves and their history. I would love to schedule an interview with you about your experiences and thoughts about this subject.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your reply.

Best Regards,

Isabelle

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