As most of us now know, May is Mental Health Awareness month. It was created in 1949 by the Mental Health America (MHA) organization in order to educate Americans on the importance of mental health and wellness. Since 1949, we have come a long way when it comes to how we discuss mental health. I think the past year that we have experienced has also made discussing mental health less taboo, and seen as an essential aspect of our holistic wellness. It is great that we’ve integrated mental health into modern discourse. I have been seeing it incorporated into storylines on TV shows, movies, written about in songs, and discussed on social media often. However, at times many depictions of various mental health challenges are not accurate, and as a result we can have distorted views on what they really look like.
Mental Health in the Media
While I have noticed an increase in discussion of mental wellness in popular culture, sometimes the depictions increase the stigma around mental health. Stigmatization can be defined as negative attitudes or assumptions about someone, based on a distinguishing characteristic. One of the most common ways the mental health stigma is perpetuated is through the various messages we receive from the media. One frequent way is through overgeneralization, where the media’s portrayal can make it seem as though all people who have mental health challenges are the same. For example, everyone with anxiety has panic attacks, or anyone who is depressed is also suicidal. Another way is through trivialization. This is when mental illnesses are portrayed as not being as serious as they really are, or minimizing the consequences that people who struggle with their mental health may face. Some mental health conditions have even become adjectives to describe behavior. Just think of how many times you may have heard someone describe themselves as OCD because they’re neat and organized, or call someone bipolar because their mood switched. Neither one of those behaviors are the sole criteria to reach that diagnosis, yet we throw these conditions around as if they are personality traits.
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Contradictory to trivialization, our media intake may lead us to believe that people who deal with mental health challenges look completely different from everyone else. As if all mental illnesses are severe and anyone who has any will never be able to recover. I think the most dangerous message we receive from the media around mental health is that people with mental challenges are all criminal or violent. In order to combat these incorrect and misleading portrayals, there needs to be a more positive representation of what mental health challenges and wellness look like within the Black community. There has been an increasing number of celebrities and public figures who have begun using their platform to be more vocal about their experiences with mental health.
Celebrities who have faced challenges
It is no secret that having mental health challenges and seeking help for them has been seen as taboo, especially within the Black community. However, there have been a multitude of Black celebrities who have made a conscious effort to use their personal testimonies to show us that there is nothing wrong with seeking help and taking care of yourself.
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While some are using their platform to create organizations and free resources for the Black community, other public figures are speaking candidly about their use of therapy and how helpful it has been on their mental wellness journey. The more people discuss their experiences in therapy, the more it becomes normalized and allows others to feel comfortable seeking help for their problems. In 2019, Big Sean started off his birthday with 3 video posts on how he knew he needed to focus and reconnect with himself. Through these videos, he shared his struggles with anxiety and depression, as well as how meditation and therapy have been helpful for him. Jay-Z is another artist who has expressed how beneficial therapy has been in helping him to connect certain events from his past and heal. In his interview with Dean Baquet, he shared growing so much from his experience in therapy. He has also been very vocal about seeking couples therapy to work on his relationship with Beyonce. When it comes to couples therapy, Michelle Obama has also opened up in her book, Becoming, about how helpful it was for her and former President Barack Obama to work through their tough times with the help of a couples therapist. She described therapy as a turning point for her, and a reminder that she is in charge of her own happiness, not her husband. There are countless other prominent members of our community that has been adamant about mental health that I was unable to focus on. But I commend all who are using their platform to reduce the stigma because it is so needed within our community. However, as people become more vocal about their experiences it is important to remember not to compare your mental health journey to theirs. Everyone’s story is different.
Mental Health Takeaways
As mental health month comes to an end, I hope the biggest takeaway is that everyone’s mental health journey looks different. Even if you share the same mental health condition, it can show up in a variety of ways for each person. So do your best to not compare or feel like your wellness trajectory has to emulate someone else’s. There are a variety of factors that contribute to how someone takes care of themselves. If there is a lack of information or access, I hope this article, the included links, and this website provide you with some tools and resources to incorporate into your day-to-day life. If therapy isn’t your jam, there are plenty of other mental health alternatives. Also, remember that healing is not linear. Your mental wellness is a journey that you will continue to be on. As you grow, the way that you take care of yourself may change, so give yourself some room to be flexible and practice self-compassion.