The Jesus Band-Aid: Being Black and Depressed

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.

Photo by Nick Owuor (astro_nic) on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9293
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Well written and needs to be discussed. A problem for women (and men) of every race and color. Putting it under the rug of denial does no good at all.

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Over the years I have observed that the Adventist view of perfectionism in its various subtle forms has led many hurting individuals down a dark path. Unfortunately, too many have never emerged from the darkness of their failure, grief, and pain of not being “good” enough for the kingdom.

There are many suffering individuals in the various strata of the “true church”. Perhaps, if the focus was on helping more than preaching at, our community of faith would be more wholistic in its mission to a world of broken relationships and wounded individuals, the numbers of which seem to increase daily.

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Thank-you. This is an important topic which should not be ignored. Too many have suffered enough trauma in their lives that mental health care is essential. This is true of many evangelical Christians, not just Adventists.

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So well written! Mental health is such an important topic and almost a taboo topic within Adventism. I am also glad that you addressed some of the cultural aspects as well. Just creating awareness is a monumental first step.

I have known many SDAs that suffer from mental illness and many of them have been told to ”Just pray about it.” My own mother-in-law had the impression that her own Anxiety Disorder was because of a “character flaw”. I cannot express how much her life improved with a little “anti-depression” pill!

Thank-you, Amari, for bringing up this topic and may it lead others to seeking help without self recrimination and loathing.

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This has nothing to do with skin colour,just state your case and stop demonising black people

The author was not “demonizing” black people…go back and carefully reread the article.

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Thank you for your honesty and courage. Seeking help for emotional pain and trauma is just as normal as going to a doctor for physical sickness. We need to pray and take appropriate action.

To just pray over these issues, and just “give them to God,” is to actually abdicate our own responsibility for our healing. Anyone teaching this is actually teaching something totally unbiblical. The danger is that it sounds so spiritual. It’s crazy making. And could be life threatening.

Many conservative churches could be sued for spiritual malpractice.

Thanks…

Frank

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Thanks for sharing. I have struggled with mild depression and heavy anxiety since I was a pre-teen. When I was 14 and having disturbing repetitive thoughts - a key symptom of OCD, the pastor came over and anointed me with oil. He recounted the story of Jesus healing the child with a demon, who caused the child to throw himself in the fire.

This “treatment” only made me more anxious when the repetitive thoughts returned. I am 29 and have finally started taking Medication and have never felt better in my life! Prayers and natural remedies can only take you so far. Conventional medicine is also a gift from God.

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I didn’t get the demonizing black people in the article either. What I did get that this sister’s family has had to live with much more worry and hardship that many of us have never been through, possibly because they were of color.

Coming from another country, and with my upbringing, I cannot understand the White “Christians” of yesteryear being so cruel and harming people just because they can, and because of a different level of melanin in the skin. It doesn’t seem Christian at all.

It is good to hear that some have found relief through drug therapy, although this is not always successful, and comes with warnings if any want to seek this as the easy way out. Check out the video, we have it in physical disk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHlLRge45sg

The message of this video should be taken into consideration, if any want that route.

As a lad, I wasn’t far behind what is described here. But through the power of a risen Savior, these thoughts are no longer present.

I am glad your sister and her support group is accepting help.

Sadly, ultra fundamental faith structures seem to be overly represented in the mental health spectrum. Shaming, toxic religious clichés, vacuous and meaningless words expressing love but lacking any purposeful action all contribute to the most negative and final outcomes.

I not too long ago buried my “longest friend”, an ARNP, child of a (psych distrusting) devout MD, who was convinced by another (meddling and unqualified) medical professional church member (untreated but diagnosed BP) to stop her meds. My childhood friend painted the sky black in less than 2 weeks.

Society at large is equally unwilling to grapple with the difficulties of this problem-which just may have its roots in the failure of love, failure of community.

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Thank you Amari for your courage to openly express the problems that many young Adventists faced growing up in the church. I apologize for the rest of my older generation who, whether because of denial, poor theology, or wishful thinking thought we could pray the problems away, or ignored your cries for help.

I think true Christianity focuses on the healing and transformation of each individual in response to God’s love, using the best human therapies available to achieve physical, mental and spiritual wellness. I am glad for the happy ending to this story, with your Mother, sister and yourself all getting therapeutic counseling. And for your conclusion to your well-written story: “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.”

Keep sharing openly and honestly - we need to hear your voice!

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easy, killer! while you are right that depression is colour blind, from this sister’s prospective it is a ‘black’ problem, much as the same issue from a white person’s prospective can have different causes. We need to be more focused on identifying the outward signs of depression, and at the LEAST, pray for them and encourage them.

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Depression often is the result when a number of contributing factors combine and one of those contributors is a person lacking the security of close, trusting relationships that become magnified by the loss of a loved one or the absence of people in typical family roles. I saw no mention about the author’s relationship with her father, or if she even knows her father. That situation is most common in the Black community which has the highest rate of broken and single-parent families of any group in America. So I’m seeing this story as a reminder of the need for us in the church to build close and trusting relationships with others and to strengthen the family as a complete unit with a refreshed emphasis on the importance of the father in the home. This can be very helpful when it is combined with recognizing how the worst problems in one generation (substance abuse, inability to control anger, physical and mental abuse, etc.) become the parenting model followed by the next and thus get repeated from generation to generation. That cycle is not limited to the Black community and it can be interrupted.

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Sorry for your loss. The circumstances of your friend’s death are inexcusable and shameful. Those ultra fundamental believers commit a crime (civil and spiritual) when they offer others guidance that either worsens their health or causes their deaths. That kind of “Christians”, …

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The “Thoughts & Prayers” technique is what politicians send to victims of crimes, or their families. It will never work with depression. Depression needs proper TREATMENT, and in most cases it can be cured with the combination of proper medication and psychotherapy.
@elmer_cupino @cincerity

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I worked for many years in the Social Service arena with people who had many disabilities including mental health. Clinical depression is a serious thing that needs both medication and counseling. I would never advise anyone to “just pray about it”…because that could result in hospitalization or death.

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Sending people “Thoughts & Prayers” is what politicians do! Totally ineffective, of course.

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“Thoughts and prayers” isn’t usually what God chooses to help/cure depression…and is negligent to present this concept without proper psychological supervision and assessment.

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I honestly don’t think depression has much if anything to do with being BLACK and WOMAN. Depression knows no color or sex, and can affect the wealthy as well as the poor.

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