It wasn’t until I was 23 years old that I realized that my struggle to wake up in the morning and get my day started wasn’t a sign of laziness; it was actually a symptom of depression and underlying anxiety. Growing up as a Black Canadian-Jamaican teen in Ontario, mental health wasn’t something openly discussed in my household. “We don’t tell our business out on the road,” my parents would say, echoing a sentiment ingrained in many Black communities. This silence led me to hold onto pain and confusion, navigating life’s challenges without a roadmap or a support system. In my short four decades here on this earth, I have learned that life often begins with challenges, especially for those of us navigating the complexities of Black mental health.

Like a rose emerging from concrete, our journeys may start in difficult places. However, what I’ve learned is that our personal journeys hold immense potential for beautiful transformation, despite the difficult elements that may surround us. From witnessing crime in my neighborhood to facing family separation and rebuilding relationships, my journey at times was tumultuous. Like many of us, I struggled silently, unsure of where to turn or how to articulate my inner battles. The stigma surrounding Black mental health only added weight to my burdens. But here’s the thing—I didn’t stay silent forever. I realized that my voice mattered, that my experiences were valid, and that seeking help wasn’t a sign of weakness but of strength. And I’m here to share a few truths I’ve learned along the way.

Firstly, our experiences are real, and our voices deserve to be heard. Hearing of the gaps in Black mental health is alarming. One study recently determined that while Black individuals are reporting signs and symptoms of depression more readily, less than 40% have sought treatment or outside support (Salami et al., 2021). Imagine being able to reach into the heart of your loved one, and to experience the degree to which they’ve been suffering in silence. Just as physical wounds need help to heal, I’ve learned that it’s the same with the wounds of our heart and soul. It’s okay to say, “I need help,” and to seek out resources and communities that understand our unique journeys.

Secondly, representation matters. Finding mental health professionals and support groups led by Black individuals can make a world of difference. I’ve noticed some amazing, Black-led organizations, such as Agapé Lens, TAIBU Community Centre, and Francis Psychotherapy, are paving the way for more Black-focused mental health services. These spaces understand our cultural nuances and provide a safe haven for healing and growth. Research shows that when Black youth engage with practitioners who reflect their experiences, the impact on mental health outcomes is profound. More than 53% of Black individuals are more likely to stay engaged in mental health services when supported by a Black practitioner (YouthRex, 2018). Feeling seen, heard, and understood can become a cornerstone of the healing process. In spaces where our voices are often marginalized, I learned to advocate not just for myself but for others facing similar struggles. Whether it’s demanding equitable access to mental health services in the workplace or challenging systemic barriers at our children’s schools, our voices matter.

Perhaps the most transformative aspect of my journey was reframing my narrative. Listen to me closely… Lean in closer… A little closer!! I am a therapist who has their own therapist! Yes, you’ve heard me correctly. And to be frank, I wouldn’t trust a therapist who hasn’t done their own healing work to understand their own issues and work through them. If you’ve thought of seeking a therapist, many offer free consultations where you can ask questions to ensure they’re the right fit for you. In my early twenties, I started engaging in therapy and mentorship. I uncovered the roots of my strength and resilience. Therapists, especially those working from a Black lens, provide a haven where our stories aren’t just heard but uniquely understood through their own lived experiences. They have helped me navigate the unique challenges within our diaspora, validating experiences often overlooked by mainstream narratives.

Today, as I now work as an Individual and Family Therapist, I carry with me the wisdom of my journey—a journey from silence to advocacy, from stigma to empowerment. My personal journey took me from a place of uncertainty and silence to one of empowerment and purpose. It wasn’t easy, but every step was worth it. I went from a struggling student achieving C’s and D’s in school to an honors graduate at the master’s level and becoming a mental health advocate myself. I have become my ancestors’ greatest dreams. I too dream of a world where we don’t bury our stories but where we learn to embrace our stories, heal from them, and celebrate our courageous victories. Every story within our community deserves to be told, heard, and honored. It’s through sharing our truths that we break the chains of stigma, paving the way for healing and wholeness.

So, to every reader grappling with their mental health journey, know this: your story matters. Seek validation, find support within your community, and advocate for the changes you wish to see. And remember, in rewriting our narratives, we reclaim our power and pave the path to a brighter, more resilient future. Remember, your story matters, your voice is powerful, and your journey is worthy of love and support. Let’s navigate this path together, with courage, resilience, and a shared commitment to healing.

With love and light, Jemmelia – Agapé Lens CT Black Therapist

Sources:

YouthREX. (2018). Doing Right Together for Black Youth. Retrieved from https://youthrex.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/YouthREX-Report-Doing-Right-Together-for-Black-Youth.pdf

Salami, B., Yawa, I., Aniyeth, Y., Cyuzuzo, L., Alaazi, D., & Okeke-Ihejirika, P. (2022). The burden of neurological and psychiatric morbidity in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: A Canadian population-based study. CMAJ, 194(41), E1404. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.212142 1.