I recently heard a Black therapist share that when people of color experience depression it can often feel like we are failing. I’ve sat with this statement and, frankly, with how much it simply resonates. At times, moving through life with low mood, energy, and motivation can reinforce the story in our head of not being good enough. We may begin to think it is “normal” to live a life lacking peace and ignore what is going on inside of us. We are conditioned to get up every day and grind hard so that we can do, have, and be more. When feeling weary, we are encouraged to “be strong” and “press on,” or be left behind in the rat race of success.
This can lead to living life in a perpetual state of competition and feeling both defeated and depleted when we don’t “win” at a game that was originally designed for us to lose. While I recognize that this is only one of many reasons why people are chronically unhappy, it reinforced for me how critical it is to be keenly aware of and examine the context behind our emotions. We can become misguided into defining happiness by the standards of others, which is largely an illusion reflected in the media — it is no wonder why the social media platforms are now facing an overwhelming amount of backlash at the role they play in the emotional toll it takes on people’s lives.
One of the most powerful things we can do to take care of ourselves is to become educated about mental health and to know what to do with the information upon receipt. Just consider these statistics— combined studies from 2019 reported that 19.4 million adults and 3.8 million adolescents in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode, which interfered with their day-to-day functioning. This data reflects that the highest rates of depression impacted females and those who identified as two or more races. Further, suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States and is a growing concern for teens, ranking as the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 14. For children under 12, research indicates that Black children have a higher rate of suicide death than White children¹. Experts suspect with the pandemic and other tragic events felt over the past two years these numbers will surge. This data is clearly staggering and yet indicates that the sense of inadequacy reverberates and impacts so many of us, especially those identifying as people of color.
And so, there is no time like the present for us to prepare a plan for our mental health. October is “National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month,” which is dedicated to promoting awareness, screening, and access to address the seriousness of this very common issue. Depression is treatable and millions have recovered, healed, and are resiliently living their life purpose.
There are three steps in dealing with depression which, when followed, can be lifesaving:
First, is being educated about the signs and knowing what to look out for. Fact is, most everyone has had times in their life when they are not at their emotional best. It is normal to experience a range of emotions which include sadness, anger, or fear. It becomes concerning when this becomes our mood for more than two weeks and starts to disrupt school, work, relationships, and other aspects of our lives.
It is important to name the experience and name the symptoms, and then you can be open to obtaining help because you realize that it is not failure, it is a health condition. It is recommended that you seek professional support to explore if you have an actual mental health diagnosis.
Next, is not to shame or blame ourselves or others who are struggling emotionally, and instead, show compassion and a willingness to support. The stigma surrounding mental health, particularly in communities of color, can oftentimes be more damaging to our sense of self than the reason underlying the depression itself. Living in a society that promotes ideology like, “only the strong can survive ‘’ may lend to inaccurate thoughts — thoughts like “ It is weak to feel bad” and “It is even weaker to ask for help.” This type of thinking often results in people remaining isolated and perpetuating the false sense of failure.
This is the last but certainly not the least important step in combating depression. There are times when we do not even recognize changes to our behaviors or other signs and symptoms and could benefit from someone else reflecting to us how we are showing up in the world. We were created to be social beings and it is an essential part of who we are. Having strong social circles is essential to our life journey so that we don’t have to face tough times alone. Connecting with the right therapist can also enhance your network of support. Strategies designed to help us become more present and aware of our thoughts guide us to understand what is driving our feelings and behaviors. We can then incorporate practices like adequate sleep, nutrition, mindfulness, and exercise to purposefully tune our minds and bodies into better feeling places. We can begin to regain control over our lives, and as we recover from the past, we learn to ride the waves of this unpredictable world without drowning from depression.