As a community, we often talk about a lot of things–from police brutality to racism in Hollywood. Social media has even given us a bigger platform to connect and voice our concerns that are otherwise too often ignored. And it’s given us a chance to discuss issues that we may find uncomfortable to bring up in other situations, or even with our own families and friends. But with all the conversations, think pieces and social justice movements we’ve managed to stir among the community, there is still one issue that is often buried: depression and mental illness.
“Black people are strong.” “Black girls are magic.” We hear these statements all the time, and while they’re certainly true we have to understand that we may not feel like a million bucks every single day. In fact, some of us go through long bouts of sadness and other periods of frustration, and don’t know what to do with these feelings. This is partly because our community doesn’t talk about these types of emotions. We’re supposed to just “push through it.” There is an idea that with just a little bit of patience “this too shall pass.” But what if it doesn’t?
I recently learned of a family friend who committed suicide. He was 18 years old. I’m not a doctor or medical professional, so I am not going to pretend to understand what someone like this was going through. But in situations like this, it’s so easy to ask yourself “what could I have done to help?” I still don’t know the answer to that, but I can say that it always helps to simply listen. Not just ask questions like “How are you” or “What’s wrong?” But listen when the person talks, engage with them, find out what they like, what they don’t like. Chances are, they’re looking for an ear, or maybe even a shoulder to cry on. But if no one else is acknowledging this issue–not family, not friends, and not on Black Twitter–it further alienates the person going through it. It makes them feel more alone.
The truth is, they’re not alone. Maybe you know someone who is depressed, or maybe you are suffering in silence. Talk to someone. Listen. But don’t ignore it, and let’s not act like this is “not a black problem.” We’re all human, and it is up to us support one another, lean on each other, and recognize that depression and mental illness is real. And we can do something about it.