When Naomi Osaka announced last week that in order to prioritize her mental health, she had withdrawn herself from The French Open Tennis tournament, it came as a total shock to the world. She is, after all, one of the most prominent young stars in tennis, the epitome of Black excellence, and the highest paid female athlete in the world. Plus, there is a common misbelief that wealthy and successful people are immune to mental health struggles, especially black people.
Some applauded her decision, while others weren’t as sympathetic. “Media scrutiny is part of the job.” “She is a brat; she wants her cake and eat it too.” These were some of the vicious comments that Naomi received for wanting to protect her peace.
Does her story sound familiar? That’s because Naomi isn’t the first black woman to speak up about mental health struggles and receive tremendous backlash for walking away from a “lavish” job. Meghan Markle was accused of lying about her mental health issues and was accused of wanting to tear apart the British Royal family when she spoke about the severe negative impact of the media and the prestigious family had on her emotional wellbeing.
The ordeal that both women have had to face only authenticates “the lack of tolerance society tends to have for black women” Psychotherapist and counsellor Faith Agugu say. Both women have had the courage to say “NO” and “ENOUGH” in a world where Black people, especially Black women do not dare to express our discomfort. We are rarely afforded space to set boundaries, have a voice and take care of themselves.
Naomi and Meghan are wakeup calls for many Black people, not just women: Mental health struggles is real in the Black community and can affect anyone, it does not matter if you are a duchess or a sports marvel. Despite this reality, there are many barriers amongst black people that make it extremely difficult to tackle the issue of Mental health.
There is a stigma surrounding mental illness in the Black community that prevents many from getting help. Mental health problems tend to be seen as a sign of weakness that should be kept hidden from others. Our culture has taught us that we do not have the privilege of being vulnerable like other communities. The myth of the strong Black man and Black woman has convinced many of us that we are unbreakable even when we are suffering.
Apart from the stigma, there is a general mistrust of medical doctors and health care professionals in the Black community, and often rightfully so! Black people have experienced racial disparities in mental health treatment for generations. These disparities include the lack of access to culturally competent care, misdiagnosis, and forced treatment.
While Black people are one of the groups that are less likely to seek help for their mental health issues, they are also the group that suffers the most from it. The legacy of slavery and racism coupled with the current racial oppression, discrimination, and violence that individuals in the Black community are experiencing, increases their risk of having Mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only one in three Black adults in the US who need mental health care actually receives it.
While barriers do exist, it is critical that we find the strength and courage to address mental health struggles in our black community in order for us to heal and thrive, we have to work together to break down the stigma around Mental health and asking for help. Yes, we are Kings and Queens but even Kings and Queens sometimes need help to pick up their crowns! 👑
How can we take steps to put our mental wellbeing first?
⭐ Talk about it: Address your feelings. Talk to your friends/family members that you trust about how you are feeling. If you do not feel like talking with family/friends, there is nothing wrong in seeking help from a professional. Therapy is an excellent way to explore your emotions in-depth and receive tools/support to manage your mental health.
⭐Practice self-care: Stay physically active for 15 to 30 mins at least three days a week, make healthy food choices and get enough sleep.
⭐Set boundaries: Boundaries are key in self-reclamation. Boundaries allow us to state our needs and gain confidence that comes from honouring them and having others honour them. Identify your stressors, they can come from any part of your life (dating life, family, social media, work environment etc) and set healthy boundaries to protect your peace. Review your social media consumption and the people you are following, ditch the FOMO, say no to negativity and people/situations that do not feed your soul in a positive way (do you have a friend who constantly vent, gossip or is always in crisis?), and normalize outgrowing environments that no longer serve you.
⭐Be with people that make you happy: Surround yourself with people that bring you positive energy. Connect with people that allow you to feel seen, heard, and able to authentically express yourself. Quality over quantity!
⭐Practice gratitude: Start a gratitude journal. Find gratitude in everything, even your challenges.
⭐Practice mindfulness: Yoga, Meditation, and Journaling are all powerful tools that allow you to spend time with yourself and become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, you can control the impact they have on you. Through mindfulness, we learn that we are not our thoughts but conscious creatures who have the power to control what we think of ourselves and the world and by doing so shape our human experience.
⭐Notice your self-talk: Be kind to yourself. Your self-thoughts may not feel like words or talking at first but pay attention and notice the energy you feel when you’re alone. Notice your patterns of self-talk and ask yourself if you’d say those things to another person. If the answer is no, challenge yourself to replace them with more supportive thoughts. Practice self-love and compassion.
⭐Focus on your (African) Spirituality: Spirituality will bring you a sense of grounding, reassurance, and empowerment that will alleviate feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Connect to your authentic self/soul and your ancestors. Observe signs from your environment to confirm that you are on the right path. Conduct rituals (i.e., burning incense, maintaining altar, light candles) which will allow you not only to be guided by your ancestors but will also allow for healing, balancing relationships, and overcoming personal blockage.