Depression & Anxiety are 101. It’s time we sign up for the next course.

Thank you, Kid Cudi. Your very personal admission has heightened the frequency of the exchange about mental health in the Black community. The focus is largely on Black men, who are often absent from the discussion, but it is opening channels for all of us to be more transparent about our very human experience. But there’s a problem:

We’re dealing in half truths and Kid Cudi’s admission has led me to feeling the need to expose it. It’s a feeling much deeper than, but familiar to, the one I’ve had when walking through the “natural” hair aisle at the drugstore. Though the loosely curled tresses of the women featured on those products did grow out of their heads naturally, their representation on those products has sold a lie to the ‘average’ Black woman. All I have to do is look at my paternal grandfather to see the imprint of miscegenation on my own gene pool. And of Pop Pop’s eight children there are seemingly eight different hair textures, most of which don’t look anything like those advertised by ‘natural’ hair products. I feared the product marketing would mislead many Black women to believe that they would surely grow curly/wavy hair and be potentially disappointed when curls of the kinky/coily type sprouted from their scalps. It happened just as I suspected and Black women everywhere discovered that their own strands landed on the more Negroidian side of the curl scale, closer to whatever 4B and 4C translates to.

It’s the same with mental illness. Now that Black folks are beginning to discuss mental illness through very personal lenses, all this talk of depression, and maybe anxiety, is beginning to normalize this very human experience but it’s essentially stopping the conversation about mental illness before it even gets started.

Mental health is a spectrum, a broad one at that, and we’re all on it. Our positioning doesn’t maintain in one place from beginning to end but we slide on it from right to left depending on many factors. Our day to day experiences, individual and compounded, impact how we slide on the scale. Individually, our experiences keep us even, lift us up, or cause a temporary plummet. The difficulty with the plummet is that Black folks haven’t been allowed to show emotions other than happiness because our fear, anger and sadness are frightening to…others. So we hide it. Worse than that we swallow it, push it deep down our throats and pray we don’t throw up where anyone can see it or smell the stench.

It’s welcome that we’re finally beginning the conversation to acknowledge the ways mental illness impacts us. By us, I mean humans. For some reason seeking health for mental illness has been laughed at as luxury care reserved for rich white people. The truth is, they were mostly engaging in what qualifies as self care — having a safe space to work through life — or medication management for the heavier lifting. The rest of us, those melanated and/or poor, have been left to hide in plain sight and self medicate with all the cheap liquor and drugs we could buy, steal, or share.

It has taken us a dangerously long time to be able to say we’re not OK even when the very expectation to be OK all the time is absurdly prodigious. Grappling almost daily with those we revere committing acts of sexual violence and publicly dismissing those acts and the harm done by them is enough for us all to be colored shades of blue. As we all suffer watching Black people’s bodies gunned down in state sanctioned violence, we’ve moved into a collective admittance of just how not good we’ve always been. We can no longer be quiet about it and the choral articulation of our not goodness is opening the way for more honesty. So, hell yeah, we’re depressed. Every one of us at some point is depressed, and anxious about what awaits us inside an envelope, on the other end of a telephone line, or when those red and blue lights twirl atop white cars, because this life shit is hard.

Thankfully, we’re coming to terms with accepting that we need help. The truth is that every one of us, no matter where we fall on the mental health spectrum, could use some help. Seeking help is as much about prevention as it is about intervention. The problem is we’re only addressing the normalized issues with mental illness. Depression and anxiety is 101, but we have friends and family dealing with more than that and we need to get comfortable with being honest about that as well. Your relative who is always kept in another part of the house and explained away with some loose but nonsensical explanation meant to abort questions… Your relative with the strange ticks or the one who has random violent outbursts and breaks up everything in the house once a year…That uncle everyone keeps away from the girls in the family… The mother who makes pancakes from scratch every day for breakfast, is on all the committees at work and the kid’s school, and never sleeps… The cousin who is always “highed up”, in and out of jail, and not allowed to stay at his mama’s house… All of those people are suffering beyond depression and anxiety and also need to have their illnesses acknowledged, identified, and treated.

All conversations have to start somewhere and depression and anxiety are the entry point for them, but no conversation is worth its weight in words if they don’t go beneath the surface. And it is just beneath the surface that so many of us are bubbling, with time running out before we spill over.

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