I was recently informed that a close relative had a nervous breakdown. I’ve heard that term for years and sort of understood what it meant, but the term never made much sense to me.
I wasn’t alone in noticing the gradual change in behavior of my relative. She’s going through some life changes and I believe it was stressing her out to the point of mental anguish.
Other relatives noticed the change and began to ask what’s wrong with her. I mentioned that she needs to see a therapist. The response I received from family members supported the age old belief that black folks don’t do therapy – that’s for white folks.
For too long, many blacks have rejected mental illness as a real illness that a doctor can help to heal. The study of mental illness has progressed just as the study of physical illnesses, but blacks are still in the dark ages regarding mental illness therapy.
We hadn’t heard from our relative for a few weeks which was in stark contrast to the annoying multi-day calls she was putting in just last month. Then we got word that she had a nervous breakdown.
Even with that news, there was no rush to get her mental health help. You’d think a bowl of chicken soup is what will heal her listening to some of my relatives. In fact, they almost sounded like they are angry with her for having a nervous breakdown.
I did an Internet search on ‘nervous breakdown.’ All top level hits say that nervous breakdown and mental breakdown are interchangeable terms. For some reason, I’ve never heard a black family say mental breakdown.
My favorite hit was from the Mayo Clinic. As I suspected…
Nervous breakdown isn’t a medical term, nor does it indicate a specific mental illness. But that doesn’t mean it’s a normal or a healthy response to stress. What some people call a nervous breakdown may indicate an underlying mental health problem that needs attention, such as depression or anxiety.
And then they mentioned this important fact…
Exactly what constitutes a nervous breakdown also varies from one culture to another.
‘Culture’ is another way of saying black folks call a mental breakdown a nervous breakdown to support their believe that black families either don’t want the burden of being stigmatized with a family member with mental issues or black people are stronger than other people and anyone who just can’t ‘get over it’ is weak.
Mental illness is a large issue in the black community. Sadly, it is rarely recognized, diagnosed or treated.
Ironically, young blacks are entering the mental health profession more than ever because they recognize it’s a huge industry. Most people who can choose their doctors choose someone they’re comfortable with and usually that means they choose doctors of their own race. Although blacks shy away from mental health, there have never been more black mental health professionals to help them if the scarcity of black therapist was a reason for refusing treatment in the first place.
To follow some of the nation’s best black mental health professionals, try to get on the Black Therapist Rock Facebook Page. It’s a closed group, but if you can convince them why they should allow you to join, it’s a great resource. There’s about 20,000 on that page and many of them are black mental health professionals – and people like me always trying to keep it together.