Black Mental Health, Therapy, and Spirituality
As a child growing up I never understood why mental health wasn’t a common topic discussed within my family. Witnessing and being a victim of emotional abuse during my childhood and teen years was one of the major reasons why I got into the mental health field. My family and friends were always so reluctant to talk about their problems and seek treatment. I remember experiencing problems that I couldn't really understand and would hear the phrase “just pray about it” as the primary solution while growing up in the church. The stigma that surrounds mental health and suicide has impacted many African Americans for years. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and in 2016 2,770 African Americans died by suicide in the US. Just like we take care of ourselves physically the same must go mentally. Ultimately making mental health a priority can help you live a longer and healthier life. Mental health conditions can be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Mental health conditions are difficult for many to understand because some are biological brain disorders. This is an important reason why you must know about your family history and seek a doctor when you are unable to explain or understand your symptoms. Not seeking proper treatment for your mental health conditions can worsen making it much more difficult to live a fulfilled life. There are many ways to help improve your mental health issues such as therapy, but within the African American community it’s common to use spiritual beliefs and family as a main source to cope through distressing times. Openly discussing these issues often times label a person as “crazy” making it much more difficult to express the internal struggle that’s happening inside. You must think if a person is battling a serious illness such as cancer, telling them to “just pray about it” is important (if it’s an active method they use) or it can be taken as an insult to others. It’s very important and necessary for them to also seek a medical doctor for treatment.
As much as prayer is important during the recovery process (again, if this is an important practice in ones life), making sure that person seeks professional help as well is proactive and helps prevent potential problems from worsening. Family, church communities, and spiritual beliefs within the African American culture is heavily relied on as a source of support, but should not be the only option when experiencing severe mental health conditions. As a Christian woman who grew up in the church and now a mental health therapist, I believe there is power in prayer and also believe that God placed people like myself on earth to help others understand and work through their traumatic issues. There is much value in psychotherapy and spirituality that can be used simultaneously. If you are a believer then you know that God works through others, including therapists. Those within the African American culture must understand it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help, it’s incredibly brave and commendable. Being misinformed about your mental health could be extremely detrimental to your overall health. One way to help eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental health is by hearing others stories who’ve experienced mental health issues and by educating yourself.
Her Story Her Truth
Cynthia Lombard is a Los Angeles, California native who is a stay at home wife of 30 years, college graduate, and mother of two daughters. Her roles also include being a personal blogger and she sits on the board of “Ebony and Pink Pearls” a non-profit organization mentoring young girls. Cynthia is an inspirational speaker and author of Revelation at Cliff House. Cynthia opens up about her battle with depression and suicide and how she continues to fight the battle.
“Depression and suicide are topics most of us stay away from. It is actually considered taboo in most homes, however more of us than not have had thoughts of suicide at one time or another and may have even attempted suicide. There are also some of us who have dealt with depression and/or still dealing with it. Some of us who are currently dealing with depression could be considered clinically depressed a real medical condition that requires medication at times. The topic of depression/suicide has always been of interest to me because I have personally dealt with feelings of suicide as well as a long-standing battle with depression. I have never spoken about this publicly or written about it because of shame and embarrassment. I have never been diagnosed as being clinically depressed, but I have sought out a psychologist who provided me with helpful recommendations for my mental health condition. If the subject of seeking help ever came up I would become angry and shut down the conversation. I now know that speaking out on this subject is part of my healing process.
When I was a child I grew up in a loving home with my mother and grandmother. I knew who my father was, but he did not live in the home. I had so much love between my mother and grandmother I didn’t miss having a father. Everything changed when my mother, who I would have considered a happy woman died to suicide at the age of 29 years old. That was my first experience with depression and withdrawal. One week after her death I was displaced from the home I knew and loved and had to go live with relatives I did not know because my grandmother was unable to care for me adequately. Within two years of my mother’s death, my grandmother died of Cancer. Soon after the death of my grandmother I then began getting abused by my caregivers. I suffered physical, emotional, verbal, as well as sexual abuse. It was during this time I wanted to commit suicide. I felt abandoned and unloved all the time and I missed the life I once shared with my mother and grandmother terribly. I was constantly teased by the children at the new school I was attending, however, through it all, I had to smile because I didn’t want anyone to know the pain I was feeling inside or the secret I had to keep regarding the sexual abuse I suffered regularly."
Cynthia reveals more about her relationship with God and how growing a closer connection to Him helped provide her with the strength and understanding she needed to seek professional help. Seeking God and trusting Him has been a huge source of support for her, but when it came to dealing with her trauma she knew that additional help was needed.
“As the years went by for about a decade I believed God had turned his back on me and I had no idea why I was being betrayed. It wasn’t until years later that I actually admitted to myself and to God that I was angry at Him for taking everything from me and leaving me here to suffer at the hands of others. God responded with, He had not betrayed me nor had He at any time left my side. The struggles I went through was bigger than just me they were meant to make me a stronger person to be used by God to help other people who have lost hope and feel there is no way out of their situation. When God told me that everything I had gone through was to help other people choosing me to be used for his kingdom, my whole perspective on life changed. I started to believe I had a friend in God, that He really did love me and that I was worthy of love.
Instead of continuing to believe the lies that I had been told I began to believe what God says about who I am. God says I am worthy, I am more than a conqueror, I can do all things through Christ, no weapon formed against me shall prosper, I am the apple of His eye, I am the head and not the tail, I am blessed coming and going, He who began a good work in me will continue until the day of Christ. I know this is not easy once you’ve been conditioned to believe the lies other people have put in our heads, believe me, it took years of growth with God and professional help from a mental health professional as well. I would encourage anyone who is dealing with depression or thoughts of suicide to seek immediate help, start the healing process right away. Therapy was very beneficial both from the pastor and the professional I sought out. They both gave me different tools to use to help me get whole again. For instance, I was told to tell myself "I love me" everyday and "who I am" in Christ from the pastor.
I was instructed by the psychologist to think of everything I was grateful for first thing in the morning. This was especially helpful when I would fall back into depression. Saying affirmations gave me confidence and helped me focus on the positive. When I initially started the process, I could only think of a few things. As I began to really think how blessed I was then the list grew and the problems got smaller. It helped pull me out of the depressed state I was in. To this day I continue to use that tool even when I'm not depressed. My psychologist suggested I see a psychiatrist and I shut the conversation down because I didn't want to be on meds. She also helped me recognize my fear. I made all my decisions based on fear which stemmed back to my feelings of abandonment because of my mother dying the way she did. Then I had the issue of self-hatred because of the sexual abuse and believing all the lies I had been told as a child. Then I had a massive heart attack and we had to deal with those issues as well. I was in therapy/counseling the first time one year and a second time four years."
Cynthia's journey has been no walk in the park, but she credits her faith and prayers to God while also seeking the help of a mental health professional. She reveals more about why she feels so strongly about her views and what she wants to help everyone else understand.
"God put therapists here to help us just like He put medical doctors here to help us so there is no disloyalty to God or your faith by seeking the help of a professional. Sometimes we need to speak to someone and be able to see their face in order to apply what they are saying into our lives. Definitely, don't stop praying and asking God for direction, I'm just saying more help may be needed because there may be a chemical imbalance that requires medication. I’m not perfect and definitely a work in progress. I'm trying every day to get it right. I fall off and get depressed sometimes, I just don't stay there as long as I used to when I started this mental health journey. Good mental health is a journey, it takes time, determination, and discipline. Seeking spiritual and professional help
are two different approaches that are both very beneficial."
Helpful Tips to Remember and Take Aways
Shame and disappointment from God (if you rely on spiritual practices) is a common reason that keeps African Americans from seeking mental health treatment. This causes African Americans to experience more difficulties recognizing their symptoms due to not opening up about their problems. Faith and spirituality are great sources of support and helpful tools that can be used as part of your treatment plan with the help of a professional. Medical standpoints, prayer, and biblical scriptures allow you to still love God and get the help you need. Again, God places people in this world to help others for a reason. If you rely on prayer and attend therapy it does not mean you are spiritually weak. Seeing a therapist for your problems will create a path to help improve your life and can help you grow even closer to God. It’s possible to find happiness using both outlets without feeling guilty or shameful. Prayer works especially when you activate your faith. Therapy works as well, when you fully commit and have an open mind about the process. My hope is that this blog help those who struggle with their mental health, seek proper treatment seeing the value in it, and not fearing what others will think. God will still be there, He will never leave or forsake you just because you get additional help from a professional. The moment you’re able to fully trust that your spiritual beliefs and therapy can coexist, will be a great first step towards helping you better understand your feelings, moods, behaviors, and underlying issues.
[if !supportLists]1. [endif]If you don’t feel comfortable seeking a mental health professional right away, start with your primary care physician so they can discuss more about the mental health risks and help refer you out.
[if !supportLists]2. [endif]Once you meet with a mental health professional ask any/all questions you may have that could help you feel more at ease.
[if !supportLists]4. [endif]If finances are an issue, contact your local mental health or public health clinic for more resources.
[if !supportLists]5. If you have insurance, call the number on the back of your card to find out more about your mental health coverage.
[if !supportLists]6. [endif]Do lean on your friends and family for support. Going through the process with someone you trust is helpful.
[if !supportLists]7. [endif]Start the conversation and educate yourself/others more about the importance of mental health.
[if !supportLists]8. [endif]Use the National Suicide Prevention Hotline Phone:1-800-273-8255 if you are in a crisis or know someone who is suicidal.
[if !supportLists]9. [endif]Remember that mental health conditions are just like physical conditions. Don’t continue to suffer in silence. Help end the stigma.
[if !supportLists]10. [endif]Remember the help you seek is from a trained unbiased professional. You will not be judged.
Please check out this link for free printable checklists that is filled with helpful mental health tips.