Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Health

By: Arnetta Whiteside
Aug 23, 2019
By: Arnetta Whiteside
Aug 23, 2019
Put your mental health first during Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.

It was the morning I had to return to New York and something didn’t feel right. I’d come home to Cleveland to visit my family over Labor Day weekend, as I normally do. But this time, I wasn’t in such a rush to get back to the City. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and lie in bed. THIS. WAS. NOT. NORMAL.

I mean, I was successful in my career. I’d just been chosen to participate in a work abroad program. I was up for promotion in my department; so why was I hyperventilating about returning to work? I sat in my room thinking, this can’t be happening. I’m stronger than this. Pull it together!

As the time neared to get on the road, my mother came into my room and sensed something was off. I remember her saying, “Baby, stay as long as you need” without me having to say a word. See, in my family, we never talked about mental health.

This wasn’t uncommon in many black households for many reasons. Whether it was the stigma of being labeled “crazy,” the lack of care and trust in medical institutions or the lack of financial resources, mental health was taboo. Which is why it was important for Bebe Moore Campbell, author and mental health advocate, to establish the National Alliance on Mental Illness Urban Los Angeles; to serve the underserved and misinformed minority community of Los Angeles in 2003. In that same year, she was honored with NAMI’s Outstanding Media Award for Literature.

By 2005, her lifelong friend, Linda Wharton-Boyd suggested there be a month dedicated to mental health awareness and education, and the two began sketching out the details. This eventually led to a resolution sponsored by Rep. Albert Wynn (D-MD) and enacted in May 2008 marking July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal was simple: to improve access to mental health treatment and services and promote public awareness of mental illness.

And she hasn’t been the only celebrity advocate of mental health awareness. In September of 2018, actress Taraji P. Henson (from Empire) established The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, in honor of her late father who struggled with mental illness.

Now here I was, having a crisis of my own, not knowing what to do or how to fix it. Prayer wasn’t going to change how I was feeling. This was deeper. In that moment, I decided I was more important. I decided to do more research on mental health, specifically anxiety, stress and depression.

There are many benefits to traditional therapy and clinical treatment plans. But during my research, I realized they just weren’t for me. I became interested in alternative forms of healing when it came to regulating and balancing my emotions. So, I decided to implement Eastern medicinal traditions into my daily routine to take back control of my mental health:

• I start my day with meditation – setting an intent on what I want to accomplish and the feeling I want to give and receive. There are many mobile apps (Headspace, Calm, etc.) and YouTube videos to get you started.
• I set clear boundaries with everyone around me, including my job. This means leaving the office at a decent hour and reclaiming weekends for my self-care.
• I learned to start listening to my body and giving it what it needed. This meant scheduling regular visits for annual check-ups, blood work and dental work. It also resulted in getting more sleep, drinking more water (which I still struggle with) and more exercise.
• I also started seeing a Reikitherapist. Understanding that my body is an energy field, I sought someone who could help me realign my energy and chakras.

While these things have worked for me – no two people are alike – just as no two therapies should be alike. If you think may need help or know someone who does, there are more resources available to us today than ever before.

Which approaches have worked for you and yours? Share them by tagging us @MBIB on IG, Facebook, or Twitter.

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