Black Folks and Therapy

Something I talk about fairly often is black people and their reluctance to seek professional help for their problems. There is a huge stigma in our community as respects mental illness and therapy. I have my theories on why the stigmas exist and how they’re perpetuated. But that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that we really need to “do better” when it comes to accepting that sometimes we all need a little help. In light of the reported suicide of actor Lee Thompson Young, I thought I’d mention it yet again.

As a people we’re doing a much better job of opening ourselves up to experiences we used to be quick to say were “for white people.” One of the last frontiers for us to conquer is being able to admit that we may not be able to work through our problems alone and taking action to get the help we need. Big Mama is an amazing woman but she doesn’t always have all the right answers. Yes, you can “take it to Jesus” but like I told someone last night “God is busy. I’m not worrying Him about that nonsense.” (It really was trivial.) Our mothers, sisters, sista-friends and good girlfriends only know so much. As well as they know us, they don’t always have best answers. Many of them don’t have the skills to properly manage their own lives yet and still they try (with all best intentions) to help us manage ours.

Sometimes after we’ve prayed about it, talked to Big Mama about it and dished about it to our girls, the issue remains unresolved. There are things that we need help exploring, and resolving, in a constructive manner in order to heal from them once and for all. Too many of us are afraid to take a cold, hard look at ourselves and admit that we face challenges bigger than ourselves. We find it difficult to admit that there are problems impacting our lives and our futures that we simply cannot handle alone.

So what do we do? We self medicate. We use food, shopping, sex, alcohol, drugs (“they’re not drugs, drugs. It’s just a little weed and a few pills every now and then.”) and countless other methods to soothe our hurts and mask our pain, fears and insecurities. Self medicating is more destructive than the thing it is we’re attempting to cover up. While self medicating grants us a temporary reprieve from our issues, it doesn’t actually solve the problems. In fact, self medicating creates more problems in our lives. The food leads to weight gain which leads to health issues. The shopping often leads to financial destruction. Sex, well, while it’s fun if we’re not careful, and sometimes even when we are, can jeopardize our health. Alcohol and drugs not only lead to health problems but they can lead to financial ruin, death and a string of bad decisions made under the influence.

So how do we get our people to understand that therapy is sometimes necessary? We take away the stigma associated with it. Some of us would rather walk around glassy-eyed and reaking of alcohol (even when we’re not drinking) instead of going to therapy and risk having someong call us “crazy.” Which is better: “crazy” and alive or “normal” but dead of of Cirrhosis the liver at age 35?

If you know someone who is “going through it,” let them know that it’s okay to seek professional help. Even if you don’t necessarily believe in therapy, don’t discourage them, or make them feel ashamed if they mention it. Support their decision. The stigma wasn’t created overnight so it won’t be eliminated overnight. But please do your part to help. You could be saving the life of someone you love.