I was diagnosed with depression at age seventeen. Anti-depressants were prescribed to me, however, I wasn't allowed to take them. To my mother, the concept of mental health was a ploy created by the Enemy, and it was used to distract us from focusing on building our relationship with Christ. She explained how the side effects of this medication were worse than what they treated and under no circumstances was I to take them.
Just when I believed that I had pinpointed the answer to my stolen joy, I had to go back to the drawing board. From that point on, I continued to be in denial of my condition and had accepted the thought that as a Black Christian woman, I just had to “give it to God.” I had grown accustomed to suppressing any negative emotions because if I showed that I was hurting, it was almost a sign of disrespect toward God. It was also a sign of weakness. Often in the Black community, we are taught to sweep our emotions under the rug and go forth in faith. We are not allowed to wallow in our depression. We are not even allowed to declare that we suffer from this disease.
With most Black Christians, there seems to be an underlying theme with handling mental health. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information on African-American’s attitudes toward mental health,
depression is the most common mental illness and there were no gender differences in prevalence. Both men and women believed they knew some of the symptoms and causal factors of mental illness. Their attitudes suggested they are not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, are very concerned about stigma associated with mental illness, and are somewhat open to seeking mental health services, but they prefer religious coping. Significant gender and age differences were evident in attitudes and preferred coping.
Because we have been taught that our ancestry is rooted in overcoming oppression through the grace of God, by default we have no choice but to overcome what we face. Because the odds were never in our favor, we must ignore or deny anything that can be a hindrance to our success. This includes not allowing mental illnesses to have any victory over our lives.
Going to church was a routine that was established early on. From what was taught in church, as well as home, my interpretation of the God we served was “everything that was worldly and outside of God was a sin. Repent for your transgressions or be condemned.” There was no room for mistakes, there was no “it’s okay, you’re human.” The fear of our parents not understanding led to my sister and me developing a system early on. We would go to each other, giving each other room to cry and gaining understanding that God loves you despite your mistakes, and you are still forgiven. My mother, unknowingly, had developed a method of telling us to place the “Jesus Band-Aid” on all of our problems. You’re sad? Call on Jesus. Heartbroken? The Jesus Band-Aid. Suicidal? There’s no reason to be, but here’s the Jesus Band-Aid.
One day, my younger sister had asked my mom if she could have a day off from school to focus on her mental health. She didn't feel as if she would be able to function and wanted a day to regroup. My mother, confused, told her to hurry up and get to school, wondering what could be the possible cause of her taking this day off from school.
“What do you have to be depressed for? You have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, food to eat. What could you possibly be sad about?”
She would then go on to compare our situations, reiterating how her childhood consisted of poverty, homelessness, drug-addicted parents, and beatings (almost for nothing at all). Due to her parents checking out at an early age, she was forced to grow up around the age of eight and became the provider for both her younger siblings as well as her mother. She was never allowed to voice a complaint, never allowed to cry on the nights where she would go to bed hungry, never allowed to say, “I can’t deal with this.” She learned early on to deal with her pain, and eventually passed on the technique to my sister and me. At the end of every conversation, we would either receive the “count our blessings” lecture or we were told to pray about it. I used to believe that it was only our household where we had to always be okay, until I noticed that I had Black peers who also had developed the same mindsets passed onto them. Internalizing our hurt and focusing on the blessings had become second nature and we had unknowingly become the next generation in denial.
In the spring quarter of school in 2018, I received a call that was almost earth-shattering.
“Do you know your sister tried to kill herself?” The tone had thrown me off because it wasn't one of a mother who potentially lost her child. It was almost one of frustration and anger.
It was almost impossible to disguise my hurt, because my mother was still focusing on the events leading up to the attempted suicide, rather than the actual attempt itself. I had to realize that my mother too suffered from depression. She too had mental health issues that she had never addressed. How she was raised was out of her control and there was no one who told her “it’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to cry.”
I explained to her the severity of the situation and how the signs on my sister’s behalf were ignored, not just by her, but all of us. I told my mother that luckily it wasn’t too late for her not to condemn my sister and to instead come from a place of understanding. It was almost a role reversal when I had to show my mother how to approach the situation, consoling my sister while praying for her and with her. That us as Black Christians are allowed to confess that we suffer from mental health issues.
Our relationship with our mother is in the process of becoming one where we can discuss our problems. My sister is currently in therapy and my mom has even taken the step to seek counseling for herself. She has an understanding that we are allowed to voice the battles that we come across and how we are effected by them. It’s unfortunate that it took me being an adult to realize that as a Black woman and a Christian, it’s okay to wallow in the days where my depression takes over, all while incorporating how to overcome it with Christ. No longer do I have to ignore my pain with simply slapping the Jesus Band-Aid on. Accepting it does not mean I am closing out God and that I don’t believe prayer will help, it just means that I’m no longer in denial of the wounds I had to cover over the years.
Amari Acevedo is an English Creative Writing major and senior at La Sierra University. She is of Filipino and Black descent and is a native of San Francisco, California.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9293