Faith + Mental Health in the Black Community
“What happens in the house, stays in the house”. “Don’t ever tell people your problems”. “No matter what you’re going through, always smile. Never wear your feelings on your shoulder”. “Trust no one”. “You’re not holy if you see a therapist”. “We will rebuke the devil. You do not have a problem. It’s a demon”. These comments are just a few things I know that are shared in the black community, especially the black church community.
The stigmas are so strong because we are taught that mental health is not a “thing” in the black community.
I have witnessed grown preachers and evangelists preach the word to hundreds and go home suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts. I have seen members of the church come to the altar seeking for healing not only physically, but spiritually and mentally. The black church has lost touch on what it means to disciple and to mentor. Shouting is great. Singing is amazing. Receiving the word is life-changing. Fellow-shipping with family is welcoming. However, when we leave the church and have to fight with sleepless nights because we cannot get past the trauma and neglect we experienced as a child...how do we make it through life with just the Sunday worship experience? We have to do more.
I am so thankful for my Pastor, my daddy, and our ministry! Although we are small and growing, our Pastor believes in connecting us with more to survive the week after the Sunday service. I believe that just like a doctor is present to help us, so are therapists, counselors, social workers, and agencies. God is the ultimate healer and the only one with the final say. However, we must learn to use wisdom when approaching mental health in the church. We have a young girl at our church that has autism. She is considered high functioning, but it is important that those working with her at any moment knows how to handle her if she has any behavioral outbreaks. Someone ignorant to the signs of mental health would just label her as bad or strange, but she is a child with autism that is just as beautiful on the inside as she is the outside. I also knew someone who suffered with depression. They came to church every Sunday in their best attire, best smile, all while serving others. But was sinking mentally and emotionally. It was highly encouraged for them to go to talk therapy with a licensed therapist for accountability. Therapists, Social Workers, and Counselors are not replacing God. Mental Health agencies are not replacing the church. They are just additional resources just like the pain medicine, high blood pressure medicine, and Zyrtec we take daily. I need my Zyrtec every day. Sometimes if its a really bad day, I may take it twice. I don’t take the medicine to replace the healing power of God, but to add to it. Just like I treat Zyrtec, we should approach mental health the same way. We should seek additional resources when needed to help us along the way. We should stop approaching mental health as if it is disgusting or something to ignore. Approach it as something to be aware of and pray for.
Below are a few simple tips to note to make yourself more aware of mental health:
Don’t ignore the signs.
People slip and say things that they claim is just a joke but really uses it as a hidden outcry for help. Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues. Listen to their conversations. Don’t have a deaf ear to someone crying out for help.
Ask direct questions.
Dealing with mental health is already awkward enough for some and can be quite confusing for others. They do not need any ambiguity. Ask direct questions: are you ok?; are you thinking about suicide?; were you abused, neglected, or raped?; did someone hurt you? These are hard questions to ask and even harder questions to answer, but the best you can do is ask those hard questions because you let one know that you are listening and you care.
Never silence someone’s mental health.
Some people know their child has ADHD, or know they are suffering from depression, or know they are battling with anxiety, or know they are an addict, or know that they are still grieving five years later. Allow them to express it; allow them to feel it. The first step is acknowledging the problem. Allow them to acknowledge, but let them know they are not defined by the problem.
Be their support.
We do more harm talking than we do listening. Sometimes we get carried away helping our loved ones during difficult times that our passion and fear for their life transfers through our support. Then our support turns into criticism. Then our criticism turns into verbal abuse. Then our verbal abuse turns into silence and absence. No longer there. We should just be there for our church members, our family, and our friends. Love on them. Let them know you will always be a shoulder to cry on. Hold them accountable, but show them love and consistency. You could be the very one to save their life.
Allow God to lead.
God is the author and finisher, the beginning and the end. He knew of this before we did. So he has the answer. But allow him (through prayer and counsel) to guide you with wisdom on how to cope, how to support, and how to become more aware.
Below are some resources for anyone in need!
Mental Hospital https://mesasprings.com/
Children Trauma and Neglect https://www.allianceforchildren.org/
Domestic Violence https://www.safehaventc.org/
Women’s Support https://www.womenscentertc.org/
Any Mental Health Services http://www.mhmrtarrant.org/
Link to find a Counselor/Therapist for your insurance https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/