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Mental Health for Success Series Part 1: Understanding Mental Health

On a daily basis, the modern-day Black female is anxious about the next event to occur in her life. As the conversation on mental health has become essential to our success, this shall be the first in our three-part series. It will encompass understanding mental health as black females, understanding how inequality, discrimination, and abuse, among other factors, impact our mental health as well as productivity. Stressors in our personal and professional lives can even hinder our collaborative relationships resulting in social isolation, loneliness, and estrangement. But in 2020, we are committed to taking journeys together and finding our places together. One thing we must win back is. Our mental health.

In my adolescence, I never opened up to people, which is still a strong part of my personality. I was quick to understand situations even when they were unfair to me, particularly when they involved my family as I didn’t want to be the spoilt last born. I carried this into the outside world, and as I interacted with other people I expressed myself less. The expression of how I felt about things was always about how other people understand it and not really what I want. Some days, I felt cheated when I couldn’t say out what I felt, and this even happened in relationships. My social and emotional repression escalated to a point where I started having panic attacks, which led to difficulties in a lot of life activities. When the doctor diagnosed me with anxiety disorder, she explained how all the feelings I had been bottling up were just looking for a way out. It is normal in stressful situations to feel anxiety; however, it can become excessive, all-consuming, and interfere with daily living. Anxiety is an intense, excessive, and consistent worry about everyday situations. It is characterized by fear, which overwhelms all other emotions. The state of constant apprehension leads to a reclusive personality. Imagine experiencing constant jitters even when there seems to be no reasonable explanation. My experience was probably the most minimal of anxiety and I was lucky to have accessed help early.

Stress comes from the pressures we feel in life, as we are pushed by work or any other tasks that put undue pressure on our minds and body. In addition, as black females, there are self- perceptions and the perceptions of others around us that may drive us into unhealthy states of mind. Extended stress and undue pressure culminate in negative effects such as depression and anxiety. People experience anxiety in different ways and it may present in both physical and psychological symptoms. Our state of mind plays a major role in leading us through the paths that we take in life. Success and coming up can come to fruition through commitment and dedication which requires a healthy state of mind.

In African society, mental health issues are met with stigma and result in polarization. Stress is a condition that has been normalized and not considered a disorder. Suicide is viewed as a result of bad omen and evil spirits that drive people into despair. When a person is diagnosed with a mental illness, they are crazy, literally. Opinions may view it as acceptable because mental health topics still remain sacred within our black societies. Despite the suicide statistics of young black girls that succumbed to depression, our communities still deny the fragility of our mental health. The conversation around how best we can stand in solidarity with those that we have lost, whilst we embrace healthy coping mechanisms is not only essential to our mental well-being but also to achieving our goals as future black females.

There are several types of mental health disorders, some of which may be a result of biological factors such as bipolar disorder. However, disorders such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and mood disorders are more often caused by psychological, emotional and social distress. As Black females, we exist within societies where pressures that cause this kind of distress are inevitable. Black girls working in male-dominated workplaces have succumbed to victimization after being harassed by co-workers and blamed for not carrying themselves well. This presents an emotional and social pressure that requires Black females to carry themselves a certain way and yet it does not exonerate them from the experience of harassment. As a Black female, pursuing a political leadership role does not come without psychological and emotional distress. Black women have succumbed to cat calling to a point of stepping down from the race when they can’t take it anymore. In the more familiar but less documented cases, Black girls have expected gender roles that put a hefty burden on their mental health. Gender roles present pressure to conform in all spaces regardless of individual situations. What makes gender roles particularly harmful is how the Black community reacts to perceived transgressions by females who choose to follow their own path.

As Future Black Females, we are able to set goals for ourselves because we have clarity in what we want. However, our ability to achieve all that we want rests on our ability to be focused and determined to work through all the hardships. This does not leave our psychological and emotional states unscathed. We take the biggest knocks in this aspect so it is essential for us to understand our mental health. As we explore our stressors, vulnerabilities, strengths, and supports, it is in my hope that in the commitment that we have made as black females to help other black females, we may be able to be strengthened for success!

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