Four African American teenaged girls started a group-chat that was originally intended to be about gossip and interesting situations they’d come across in their communities. However, it wound up leaving a more serious mark on each of its members.
As the members became more open to each other, the group chat slowly turned into a support group where they would talk about things that were happening throughout their daily lives. They often talked about a variety of topics ranging from friendship and relationship problems to very serious topics including suicide.
One day, Amaria Chandler, the group’s founder had a chilling message for her friends.
“Y ’all I don’t wanna live no more,” she texted. “I’m only telling y ’all because I love each one of y ‘all dearly. And I know that I don’t talk to y ‘all day to day, but this life s*** ain’t cut out for me.’” She felt the need to tell the girls because although she didn’t care about life anymore, she did care about the people in it.
This wasn’t the first nor the last time it has happened either.
“Earlier this month,” she says, “I went through a tough time where I thought overdosing was the way out of my struggling. I, of course, told the group, and Nyasia, one of the members, told me something I honestly had to think about. She said, ‘Oh my God, you don’t wanna kill yourself. You just wanna stop hurting.’”
Many traumatic events led to this toxic feeling. Dealing with the sight of domestic violence, two evictions, and being raised in such an advanced generation led to the built up frustration and sense of emptiness within she felt every day.
According to a study from the Center for Disease Control, the CDC, 4 percent of women and African Americans are more likely to report major depression than the 3.1 percent of whites. However, the CDC also finds that even though these reports are made, only 7.6 percent of African Americans reached out for treatment compared to the 13.6 percent of the general population in 2011.
With the increase of depression and suicidal thoughts in the black community it’s not much of a shocker that three of the four girls have experienced this feeling of depression, yet they had no intentions on telling anyone— not even their parents.
“I noticed a cycle between parents [ignoring] it, then children [ignoring] it and the cycle continues,” he said. He finally went to therapy after he became an “actual adult.” He just felt it was time. Now he has three children and makes a point to speak about mental illness so the next generation won’t stumble along as he did. Ami r believes more education about mental illness and conversations with parents is a major step to break the stigma.
“Education is the key to liberation,” he said.
The good thing is more attention is being brought to mental illness and the stigma is slowly being erased, therapists said. Some of the attention is being brought by celebrities. Actress Taraji P. Henson started her own foundation to bring awareness to the issues in honor of her father, who suffered from mental illness. The Boris Lawrence Foundation will give scholarships to African-American students who are planning to major in mental health-related fields. It will also offer complete mental health services.
Henson isn’t the only celebrity who advocates and talks about mental health. Rappers DMX, Lil Wayne and Kanye West have publicly discussed their battles with mental health. DMX discussed his struggles living with bipolar disorder on the Dr. Phil Show. He said he has two personalities. One is X, the man on the stage, and the other is Earl, his stable half. West shares similar struggles as DMX. In his songs, he quotes words including, bipolar, multiple times to describe his illness. He wants the stigma to be removed from it.
Celebrities aren’t the only ones pushing for the destigmatization of mental illness. Orkeem Davis, a therapist who treats Amir, said people might not get treatment because of the way society views mental illness. “The more people talk about it the more accepted it will become,” he said.
“The world we live in specifically associates mental health with being delusional and crazy and that’s by far not the case,” he said.
Davis believes something must change to break this stigma. Like his patient, he believes “knowledge is key” and that African Americans need to be better educated about mental illness that affects their communities. Resources are also an issue, he and other therapists said. There are not enough treatment facilities in minority communities and there is also a lack of funding, he said. He does what he can by offering cheaper rates and devotes his time to educating people who live in South Jersey about mental health illness.
Davis isn’t the only one spreading awareness about the limited treatment options in these communities. Dr. Sheila Robinson-Kiss, a New Jersey therapist, also believes that minority communities lack the resources to fully tackle this topic head on. When these resources are actually made available, there is still a struggle in finding the exact form of effective treatment. She said there are little steps people can take to break the stigma, such as creating healthy relationships between parents and their children. Therapy can be quite effective if executed correctly. Dukes believes strongly in therapy. He does the best he can to try to get people to open up during sessions.
“I create a space that’s safe enough to allow that person to be all of who they are,” he said.
Many people find therapy helpful once they are willing to try it, Dukes said. The younger generation is helping to open their parent’s eyes to mental health treatment. Princyana Hudson, a student at Richard Wright, thinks that generally mental health is viewed as a weakness in the black community.
“People think it’s embarrassing,” she said.
But she thinks people her age are more open to therapy even if their parents are less inclined to it. Children can have more open conversations with their parents to help change their perspective. Hudson said therapy sessions she participates in at school have helped her learn to deal with mood swings. She stops and thinks about things before acting on them. This has helped her to get a better handle on her emotions, she said.
“Kids go through things that could scar them for the rest of their lives so why not start early?”
Duke also sees hope in the next generation in erasing the shame around mental health.
“Let’s not keep it a secret,” he said.
Photos by Davon Harris