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What You Need To Know About Mental Health Issues and Black/LGBTQ Folks

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (“NAMI”), “LGBTQ individuals are almost three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. This fear of coming out and being discriminated against for sexual orientation and gender identities, can lead to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, thoughts of suicide and substance abuse.” [1] In the past, the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reported that, “African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population[2].” These statistics, while troublesome when considered individually, become even more alarming when you consider what such statistical information hints at with regards to African Americans who identify as LGBTQIA. Though conversations about mental health are becoming more common in the African American, LGBTQIA, and African American LGBTQIA communities, it is my belief that those who are most vulnerable are typically the least likely to speak up. At present, there are multiple suicide hotlines that specifically target LGBTQIA people, but I wonder how many in our community actually make use of these hotlines during their darkest moments.

After participating in conversations with multiple people who are struggling with their mental health in various ways, I began to wonder if all people of oppressed communities are guaranteed to have some form of a struggle with their emotional and psychological wellbeing. I mean, have so many of us been mistreated or do so many of us fear mistreatment or anticipate mistreatment that we have found ourselves in a constant state of anxiety and crisis?

The irony of the word “gay” is not lost on me in moments like these. In our society, a word with such a positive definition has become a slur, a form of criticism, a derogatory term. Similarly, our lifestyles are frequently ones where you would think having the space to genuinely be yourself would establish happiness with self and from others. Instead our “lifestyle” provokes ongoing and audacious criticisms. The truths of our community go far beyond the stereotypical happy gay man and club-hopping lesbian woman. The dark moments are frequent, though there are still many who will not acknowledge those moments or who are content to drink and/or party through them in an effort to make them disappear. The relatively jovial appearance of activities such as PRIDE parades and LGBTQ nights at various clubs may be a bit of a distraction from the fact that the people most in need have the fewest services. Our efforts to pretend that nothing is wrong may have served us well while simultaneously crippling us.

I often question how it is that we are constantly pushed into pretending to be okay, be that for our fellow struggling community members, for those outside of our community, or for those expecting us to assist them in the fight for justice, while we are struggling to remember that our lives are worth something. It pains me to even consider how many LGBTQIA Women of Color we have lost over the years to lives that felt like burdens and deaths that felt like the best form of healing. So much is killing our community and sometimes I am convinced that the same courage it takes to live our lives openly or admit the hard truths about ourselves to ourselves is the courage that hinders us and leaves us with more questions than answers. We are frequently afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to give a name to what is troubling us, afraid to ask for help.

It is my opinion that, until we stop hiding behind the stereotypes and the parties, and start actually acknowledging how being the proverbial red-headed step children of society is affecting us, we will continue to lose loved ones who were breaking right in front of us. I worry about my loved ones who identify as part of this community. I worry about the hatred that is spewed from multiple directions, even from family members. I question how we can continue to bury people who had lived their lives burying their feelings while not realizing that we are doing the same.

Since I would prefer to end this post on a more positive note, I thought that one way that I could use this particular blog post was to bring attention to at least one mental health-related movement that has had my attention for several months now. As many may already know, Project Semicolon is “a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.”[3] One thing that has proven remarkable to me about this particular movement is the number of LGBTQIA Women of Color that I see getting semicolon tattoos and/or making reference to their mental health struggles under the auspices of celebrating Project Semicolon. Though I am sure the vision of this particular non-profit movement was not solely focused on assisting LGBTQIA People of Color, it seems to have done precisely that. Having a visual representation of overcoming proves to have given hope to many that I am close to. I cannot thank Project Semicolon enough for providing those I love with a symbol of just how great their life is and just how important it is that they continue to write their own stories.

I challenge each of you to reach out to those you love who are struggling with mental health concerns and/or to reach out to those you love because you are struggling. Though our community prides ourselves on celebrating in the midst of turmoil, we must also acknowledge the turmoil that individuals are experiencing and be willing to hold their hands through the storms.

For those of you who read this post and are currently in need of help, please consider visiting the It Gets Better Project website. For those in the Chicago-area looking for resources for African American LGBTQIA individuals, please visit the ChicagoLand Directory.

[1] “LGBTQ.” National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ. November 3, 2016.

[2] “African American Mental Health.” National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Diverse-Communities/African-Americans. November 6, 2016

[3] “Mission Statement.” Project Semicolon. http://www.projectsemicolon.org/our-vision.html. November 20, 2016.

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