The struggle for African freedom has been going on since the first Africans were kidnapped.
Within that struggle is another struggle Africans face─a more invisible and silent struggle with mental health.
According to a 2014 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, 16 percent (6.8 million) of Africans have mental health issues.
Many of us go untreated and undiagnosed, leaving us unable to cope with our illness.
For African women, this can be particularly challenging, not only because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, but also because of the “strong black woman trope”.
Similar to how African men are also less likely to seek treatment or help for fear of being seen as weak, African women do not seek treatment because we are made to feel as if we are Superwoman.
This view may especially take a toll on African women who are engaged in the revolutionary struggle.
Women who on the outside fight for freedom on the front lines every day with their Comrades are going home at night to fight their demons alone.
Unwell and Undiagnosed
Many African women are suffering from a diagnosable mental illness and few of us are seeking help.
There are many of us who don’t realize we have an illness. Mired in the everyday contradictions of life under colonialism, the sadness and feelings of hopelessness are attributed to not having power over one’s own life.
Being sad is one thing, but persistent feelings of hopelessness, low energy, no appetite, lack of sleep or sleeping too much are all common symptoms of chronic depression.
Depression can also manifest physically with body aches and headaches as well.
People with depression often hear things like, “happiness is a choice” or “just change your perspective”, and my personal favorite, “you just need to pray more”.
If dealing with a mental illness was that simple, it wouldn’t be such a huge battle─one that a lot of us lose. Thoughts of harming oneself or others are very serious symptoms.
Not having a good support system can also contribute to someone not seeking treatment─a situation that may be prevalent in colonized African communities.
The feeling of being alone in this struggle is further exacerbated by the underrepresentation of African people in the conversation surrounding mental illness and depression.
When we do hear stories of our African sisters who are mentally ill, it is usually because they were murdered by the State instead of getting the help they need.
Sisters like Charleena Lyle whose own family recounted her struggle with mental illness fall into this category. Instead of being offered any help or compassion, the State murdered her for something she could not control.
Similarly, Sophia King was 23, suicidal, paranoid and also un-medicated when she was murdered by the State in 2002.
66 year-old Deborah Danner was mentally unstable and murdered as well.
The State gives clemency to mass shooters who are deemed mentally ill, but not African women who are struggling with a mental illness.
It is our responsibility to allow space for African women who are sick and struggling and to offer the safety, help, and protection that we clearly are not getting anywhere else.
Isolation and the Element of Shame
Worse still, Africans who are aware of their illness and struggling to cope with it may feel shame.
This can be especially dangerous for people who are suicidal, because they may be less likely to reach out and ask for help because of the stigma.
They may feel like they are a burden to others or that they are making something out of nothing.
Mental illness can be so hard to understand if you don’t have one and even the most well-meaning people can say or do things that are hurtful to the person suffering.
It is so important for people to be educated on how to help their loved ones who may be suffering.
Most mental health problems manifest before the age of 25. Sick children growing into sick adults with no tools on how to cope, coupled with stresses of colonialism, is a recipe for disaster resulting in increased interactions with the police. Many of our sisters end up living on the streets because they are unable to take care of themselves.
Even worse, many of our sisters are locked away in prisons instead of getting the treatment they need.
Many Africans go most of their lives undiagnosed because of the economic challenges under colonialism.
Besides feeling shame, lack of insurance and outlets to receive a diagnosis and treatment hinders many African women from getting the help they so desperately need.
With the looming threat of pre-existing conditions being grounds for being uninsurable, just talking and reaching out for help can be used against a person to deny them affordable treatment.
If doctors are less sensitive to the physical pain an African is feeling as opposed to a white patient, then it is safe to assume that they may also be less inclined to listen to an African patient who is actively seeking mental health treatment.
On top of shoddy health insurance laws, the U.S. also doesn’t have enough people in the mental health field; the demand surpasses the supply.
So, in addition to making space for our mentally ill sisters, we also need more Africans to be trained in how to identify and treat someone with a mental illness, because we cannot depend on the State to do so properly.
We receive no compassion or mercy, but are instead murdered and locked up.
We need to have more dialogue and make it ok for people to talk openly about their issues so that more and more African women will feel comfortable reaching out for help.
We are our sister’s keeper and it is our responsibility to create a culture and society where no one suffers in silence.
Death to Capitalist Colonialism!
Forward to Freedom for African People, so that We Can Build a Society that will Ensure our Most Optimal Health!