The idea of bringing such a discussion to light is even forbidden, mental health is best left in the darkness, swiftly brushed under the rug and never to be looked at again.
Mental health in black and brown communities is not something that is acknowledged, those who with mental health issues are often outcast and treated like less of a human.
When we look at the root issue of why it’s such a taboo, it’s evidently clear that a lack of understanding above all is to blame. Often when people think about mental health they synonymously think of ‘crazy’ and humanity tends to turn a blind eye to things it can’t comprehend or make sense of.
Growing up in a Somali household it was considered a taboo, I had never heard of mental health, even though I spent my entire life in a Western society.
Videos filmed in Somalia on Instagram and other social media sites depict the gravity of the situation back home and show people with mental illnesses chained to beds and gates.
But growing up in a western civilization those cruel images seem almost fictional, as the idea of chained people is unfathomable, yet that is the reality for thousands without access to proper facilities and treatments.
I never felt the need to think about my mental health, even when I was experiencing things, I didn’t know if what I was going through was firstly, normal and secondly recognised medical conditions. When a friend suggested therapy to me, I all but laughed and didn’t think it was something millions of people like me used to overcome their problems.
When I look back, my problems are easy to see, I experienced war as a child fleeing Somalia’s civil war. Before the age of 5 I spent time in refugee camps till my family was finally settled in a village in Friesland in the Netherlands where we were the only black, Muslim and foreign people.
That experience alone should’ve put me in lifelong therapy, but I was also bullied during primary and secondary school, which severely impacted my self-confidence.
Late Teens and Early Twenties
During university a lot was going on with me academically, professionally and personally. So many things were happening at the same time that I often felt burned out, I became socially more introverted with less friends, I didn’t go out to parties or drinks and other than going to class and work, I never left my room.
As all-nighters became more common for me, I started to struggle with sleep and soon with memorising things I had revised, after a while I started to get crippling sharp pains in my chest that felt like my heart was being pinched. But of course, I kept going without seeking any help as I grew up with the notion that my problems were trivial.
My family often told me to be strong, not cry or get over it as there are bigger problems like poverty out there. My favourite of the dismissals however was to get closer to God, which often made me feel disconnected to religion as I never felt better and because of that I thought that something was wrong with me if God couldn’t even cure me.
This Glenn Close quote sums up this entire article and my experience.
What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour and more unashamed conversation
After graduation, I became even more unstable, I would often break down and feel the world closing in on me as I struggled to overcome my unknown traumas.
Despite going through everything during the day, I felt most vulnerable at night, when I had nothing to distract me.
There was no talking about what I really went through during the day, no one to debrief and take off some of the heaviness I was feeling. But I found solace on social media, as people were openly and unashamedly discussing mental health, it felt strange but so empowering. After reading some stories and quotes I was able to decompress and compartmentalise some things.
I finally understand and accept that it’s ok not be ok, and my constant need to be in control of myself and my emotions has diminished. I know and understand the danger of not seeking help earlier, and it was only after everything consumed me and every experience altered my perspective on life, that I decided I had enough.
I now find myself curious about therapy and finally feel ready to get help. But that’s not to say that I don’t feel robbed of time as I spent a long time feeling ashamed and angry with myself for not having a grasp on things, now I am left picking up the crumbs of years of emotional and mental drainage.
Looking back it probably wouldn’t have taken me this long to seeks help if people around me didn’t dismiss my feelings and issues.
Mental health is an umbrella for a multitude of problems, it is therefore very difficult to define with one word or sentence.
There are hundreds if not thousands of mental illnesses that fall under mental health, some more severe than others.
And while we can’t be expected to make sense of it all, we can be more sensitive and try to understand what others are going through, and most importantly educate ourselves and others about common issues and treatments that can save lives.
If you have similar experiences as me or you are too afraid to seek help, I hope my experience and reading this article will motivate you.