Not Dealing With Depression

Being in For Colored Girls reminded actor Hill Harper how we often refuse to take our mental health as seriously as we do our physical well-being.

Hill Harper and Kerry Washington (Quantrell Colbert)
Hill Harper and Kerry Washington (Quantrell Colbert)

Recently I shot a film that I am very proud to be a part of — For Colored Girls, directed by Tyler Perry, based on the award-winning choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, by Ntozake Shange.

For Colored Girls is about dysfunctional relationships of all kinds. The personal toll that a dysfunctional relationship can levy on any of us can be, without question, one of the most difficult things we have to deal with.

In my work with young people through my Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, I have heard many real-life stories that reflect the experiences of abuse, neglect and violence depicted in For Colored Girls. Moreover, I frequently receive letters, e-mails and verbal accounts of depression, dysfunction and trauma of all kinds. I recently got a letter from a young woman who is studying at a historically black school and contracted a sexually transmitted disease when she was coerced into having sex with an older adult man. She was in a state of massive depression and didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

The young woman who wrote to me consulted a doctor for her STD but did not simultaneously address her mental health. Fact is, only one out of three African Americans who need mental health care receives it. Why? Think about it: When we’re not feeling well — for instance, if we have a cough or a migraine — we immediately take stock of our condition. We start adding up all of our symptoms and try to match them to an illness. We start monitoring those symptoms to figure out if we are getting better or getting worse. And if we suspect the latter, we go to someone who can help us get better.

When it comes to our mental health, we’re conditioned to not pay the same kind of attention or to have the same set of responses. We’re told by people around us to “cheer up,” but rarely do people suggest that we go to a doctor who can help.