The stigma on mental ill health is higher among the African and Caribbean community than any other ethnic group worldwide. When 1 in 4 of us in the UK will suffer from mental illness at some point in our lifetimes, and around two million people living here come from African or Caribbean backgrounds, it is safe to assume that either you, or someone close to you, will be affected. That’s an awful statistic but it cannot be ignored. No one is exempt.
It can be disheartening for young people from black backgrounds with mental health issues to hear friends and family brushing their problems under the carpet. It’s common to hear that you’re making your problems up for attention, that you need to go to church more, or you need to pray harder. Mental health problems are not the norm in black communities and suffering can make you seem weak. But seeking help and talking to people to try to overcome these issues is actually a sign of strength.
Going to university can be a catalyst for bringing underlying mental health issues to the fore, or causing new problems to arise. This can seem incredibly scary for anyone who is starting university soon, but honestly it is terribly common to feel alone surrounded by thousands of new people. It happened to me.
At university you are suddenly thrown into this world where you pretty much have to be independent or starve; surrounded by new faces and new ‘friends’ that you can’t work out yet. This huge change is a central factor to developing mental ill health. People at university come from a whole range of backgrounds, so its easy to come across people who treat you badly or not in a way you would expect. That’s another factor. Your course may be really challenging and you may find it hard to get helpful feedback on your work – that’s another factor. All added together, it’s clear to see how easily mental health problems, especially anxiety and depression, can arise for you in this new environment.
If you can’t tell your family about it (I tried, and I was completely ignored), there are a number of things you can do, but they all come down to one thing: speaking out. There comes a point in the downward spiral where you realise you need to stop existing and start living and make the effort to change. The best way to do that is by talking or writing about it and getting the support of your friends. It really is difficult, but by speaking out you help yourself by making others aware, and then they can encourage you to get through the day. If it is too difficult, it is advised that you see a GP, though it is possible to overcome extreme depression and anxiety just through talking and writing blog posts. That’s how I did it; no pills necessary.
Suffering in silence is dangerous. It allows your mind to become a breeding ground for negative, intrusive thoughts that dampen your confidence and ability to overcome your issues. Be emboldened by the fact that you are not alone – many young people are in the same boat as you. Stand firm in the knowledge that your mind is a powerful thing, and if you do want to free yourself from depression or anxiety, you can. Just TALK.
There are a number of websites and online campaigns that can help you build up the courage to overcome your illness, including:
– #SickNotWeak: (https://www.sicknotweak.com/), which “aims to create a community that reduces the loneliness and hopelessness of both those who have mental health illnesses and the people who care for them”;
– Time To Change: (http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/), a campaign to end the stigma; and
– #ItAffectsMe: (http://www.itaffectsme.co.uk/), a social media campaign highlighting the scale of people suffering from mental illness.
You can read further about my own personal experience with anxiety and depression on my blog: https://kimberleyjohn.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/observations-2-giving-up-depression-for-lent-my-fight-against-mental-illness/;
Plus a piece for Great with Disability explaining how mental illnesses are just as valid as physical illnesses: http://www.greatwithdisability.com/stories/story/mental-and-physical-illnesses-are-equal
And lastly, if you ever want someone to talk to who has been through what you’re dealing with, or if you’re worried you or someone you know will be or is affected, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @kimberleyjohn_
-Author: Kimberley John
Kimberley John is a second year Journalism student at the University of Sheffield
See more of her work here: www.kimberleyjohn.wordpress.com