This Mental Health Awareness Month I’m passing the mic to two amazing Black women to hear their stories and thoughts. As mentioned in Part 1 of this “BlackHealthMatters: Stories From Black Women To Black Women” series, mental health in the Black community can be a taboo subject. This is such a damaging thing, and it’s about time this changed. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the past year of Covid-19 and the uproar from the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s that we all need to be there for each other. Community is important. One of the many ways we can show up for those around us is simply by listening. Once again, I hope this post will encourage you to a) reach out to your Black friends, and b) inspire you to tell your story too. Everyone’s story matters and there is so much power in vulnerability. I believe that the act of sharing our story can help to make mental health something that is more openly discussed, which can ultimately help those struggling to not feel ashamed about it. We can help each other feel less alone.
I’ve begun to realise just how taboo mental health is in my community. It is synonymous with a lack of strength, associated with those who enjoy wallowing in their own self-pity, and is perceived as something which only the ‘ungodly’ suffer from. This is a harmful way of thinking. And this lack of understanding of mental health has led to a lot of pain and a lot of silence where people otherwise should and would have sought help. But as awareness of mental health increases, so does the understanding of it. I have been happy with the rapid increase in number of safe spaces there are for people to talk through what they are going through. Without fear of judgement and without fear of reproach. I have also been amazed at the number of people who have been willing to lend a listening ear. There has been a stark increase in the number of support circles and the sharing of experiences. The level of comfort there is in this is immeasurable. My advice for people who are struggling with mental health is to understand that their conditions do not define them. You are not your condition. And there is help out there for you. It takes strength to recognise and admit that something isn’t quite right. It takes even more strength to ask for help.
My awareness of mental health was activated and heightened through a personal crisis in 2018. It was not something that was talked about at home or in church or in social gatherings. I would hear the odd story here and there that so and so has ‘gone mad’ meaning it was so bad they had been sectioned or they were on the streets naked type of mad.
My own mental health was affected when I underwent an acute and life threatening illness that was unexpected. One minute I was fine, the next I am in ICU with tubes sticking out of my legs, mouth and neck. Machines bleeping. Doctors with flip charts. Family in the waiting room, you know a real Holby City situation. There was no script. No wait, there was, and it said ‘Betty has less than 24 hours to live and we are doing our best’. There was also a lot of medical jargon being used to bring my family to understand what was happening.
I came out of hospital after 2 months and I had to come into terms with my new normal – my body didn’t work/look the same, I struggled with cognitive function, focus and concentration. I could not make my bed and I wasn’t used to asking for help – not me, not the independent, make things happen Betty. Things had changed and I was not psychologically prepared.
The frustration from not being able to do things for myself to the lack of a sense of purpose was driving me into anxiety. I was not able to articulate what my needs are because I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I was lashing out, in tears most of the time and generally not pleasant.
Therapy was a real eye opener, it was like holding a mirror. It gave me language. It made me understand what had happened and the root cause. It was hard work.
While I could say a lot about my journey, culture is big contributor to how we deal and perceive mental health. This image summarised the factors that motivate culture, in this case barriers affecting various cultures and preventing the breaking of stigma associated with mental health.
Since processing my own struggles, mental health conversations have become normal in the family, even some have committed to their own journey through therapy. My relationships have greatly improved as I am very aware of myself, I can tell when I need space and I am able to ask for that.
I started an organisation called Practice Run to empower women to find a sense of purpose after trauma and have been involved in delivering a series of talks on managing stress and anxiety during the pandemic.
– Betty Mungai
Music IG: @betty_mungai
Practice Run IG: @practicerunofficial
Check out Part 1 for more stories/thoughts from Black women to Black women. Let’s intentionally seek to listen to the Black women around us.
1 THESSALONIANS 5:11