I don’t know how to talk about mental health in a short, sweet and all-encompassing way. On the topic, my mind is a Powerball drawing of sorts.
The first ball up is MarShawn McCarrel, the brilliant Black Lives Matter activist who tragically took his own life earlier this year. Then I think of the artist formerly known as Ron Artest excitedly giving a shoutout to his psychiatrist after the Los Angeles Lakers won the 2010 NBA Finals.
I think about the lady who was loudly arguing with herself on the A train this morning, and also my Zenned-out best friend, who emits rainbows, peace and positivity.
I remember a loved one’s daily battle with anxiety and depression, and how small I feel being unable to help her fight against all that hurt.
I hear Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam.” I see Beyoncé swinging that bat in Lemonade. I’m all over the place.
Mental health is a broad topic, and one that our community—our beautiful, vast and wonderfully diverse community—struggles to delve into, even though we probably all know somebody who has fought something on the wide spectrum of mental illness.
I didn’t personally know McCarrel, but his death shattered me. I thought about what role the heaviness of fighting for basic human dignity and life played in him taking his own. I started reading about the interconnected factors that lead to our pain, and how our existence as black people in this country affects our mental well-being. I learned about how many mental-health professionals lack the cultural competence to treat us, and how commonly we’re misdiagnosed. Ultimately, I found out about how little we talk about mental health, regardless of how often it is challenged in our homes and lives. It’s the elephant in the room, strangling us with its trunk.
Don’t get me wrong—there are many people working to spread the word about mental wellness in our community in creative ways. Maybe you casually talk about it with your family and friends. But on a grander scale, the stats show that many of us are suffering in silence. Suicide among black boys has doubled since the early ’90s. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are more common in the black community than we realize or acknowledge, and we lag behind other demographics in getting professional help.
If 1 in 5 of us is battling a mental illness of some sort, how are we coping? Where is the help? Why don’t we talk about it more? It’s a layered conversation, and as a storyteller, I know that it begins with being open to listening to what people honestly have to say on the topic. I enlisted the help of a diverse group of beautiful black people to launch MayBeWell, a video collection on mental health in the black community.
Each day of May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S., a new two-minute video journal will be released on MayBeWell’s website. In total, 31 people will candidly share their trials, their triumphs and their questions on their different journeys to mental wellness. In what is perhaps a reflection of my scatterbrained thoughts on mental health, the topics range from seasonal depression, to substance abuse, to spirituality, to post-traumatic stress disorder after childhood violence, to the effects of social media and much more. The one constant is honesty.
You’ll hear about the breakup that led to severe anxiety before clarity. You’ll see how bipolar disorder forced a family to reach outside of the church for help. You’ll hear from an activist who knew McCarrel and is now working to stay sane while fighting for justice. You’ll also hear from mental-health professionals who work primarily in the black community.
Through these stories, I’m hoping to encourage us to create more safe spaces to have this much-needed conversation openly. This is an attempt to peel back the layers, to hear what we’re not saying out loud and hopefully spark conversations that can ultimately save lives. Check out day 1 below.
Sarah M. Kazadi is a journalist and filmmaker. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, CBS Sports, Newsweek and other news outlets. Kazadi has covered politics, war, sports and other topics in the U.S. and internationally. She especially enjoys covering neighborhoods and demographics that are underserved and misrepresented, and telling sports stories that go beyond the final score. Kazadi is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and grew up in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.