According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 10 percent more likely than non-Hispanic whites to report some form of psychological distress.
So contrary to the old folks’ adage, black people living with depression aren’t doing so because they’ve been afforded the luxury of having “white people problems.”
Thankfully, a number of creative black 20-somethings with mental illnesses are addressing the stigma that surrounds it. But three, in particular, have stood out for the unique ways they’re going about furthering the mental health dialogue.
They spoke to HuffPost about using social media to share their experiences ― which include depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia ― through digital art, community meet-ups and storytelling.
They’re hoping their forthrightness about their own struggles with mental health will help others to cope. Given the looming threat of TrumpCare, which would classify mental illness as a pre-existing condition and raise rates, such a mission is vital.
“We’re now working to create our own lanes and own coping mechanisms to get through what’s going on right now,” 27-year-old filmmaker Elyse Fox told HuffPost of the possible detriments that could come of living with mental illness during the Trump era.
In December, Fox made a video documenting her trials with depression ― which she was diagnosed with three years ago ― titled “Conversations with Friends.”
“The film was like my coming out party for depression ― to let my friends know I know I’ve been a little weird lately but this is why,” Fox said.
The mini-documentary, which was posted to Vimeo in December, attracted the attention of many young women who, like Fox, were trying to make sense of their depression and feelings of isolation.
“I saw a lot of the girls had the same issues. They felt like they were alone didn’t have a friend anyone to relate to,” Fox said.
“So I wanted to create something in real life for girls who are sad and don’t know what’s going in their head; or do know what’s going on their head or just need a friend with depression,” she continued.
In February, Fox founded Sad Girls Club, a community of young women struggling with depression and in need of companionship.
The group has had three meet-ups thus far with the first being an open therapy session in New York City where a professional counselor was present. The session was live-streamed by the arthoecollective and received over 20 thousand views. The most recent gathering focused on art therapy and took place in Washington D.C. where participants drew self-affirmations throughout DuPont Circle.
But Fox, who lives in Brooklyn, wants to take the Sad Girls Club community beyond the East Coast. In June, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 for a millennial mental health tour. The campaign, which ends on Saturday, would expand the SGC community by doing meet-ups in five major U.S. cities in the hopes of aiding the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Project 2025 initiative to reduce the rate of suicide in the U.S. 20 percent by 2025.
Overseas, London artist and art teacher Kirsty Latoya is spreading mental health awareness via a different platform: digital art.
The 25-year-old, who’d been creating artwork depicting her struggles with mental health for some time, went public with her work last March after her mom passed away.
Latoya, who is Caribbean, said skepticisms surrounding mental illness in her culture initially prevented her from acknowledging her depression.
“The views on mental health in my community are different,” Latoya said in an email to HuffPost. “Sometimes in Caribbean culture, it’s not regarded as an actual illness. You’re brought up to be strong and some parents show no weakness so you aim to replicate that. This deterred me from accessing the level of support I needed when I was younger.”
The reluctance to acknowledge mental health in some black communities is a subject Dr. Candice Nicole, who counsels black millennials, said is regularly bought up by her patients.
“People do not believe them. It is unfortunate, but black pain and suffering is often minimized or ignored,” she said. “In fact, I have known of black clients being told that they ‘don’t look sick’ or that they need to toughen up by people who are not competent therapists.”
But Latoya did decide to share her tribulations with depression and anxiety with friends, family and eventually, the internet. Dr. Nicole said she’s noticed a rise in millennials helping to normalize discussions around mental health as Latoya has done.
“Black millennials in the media and at large seem to be creating a space of acceptance around the mental health issue,” Dr. Nicole said. "We see this in the numbers of black students coming to receive services, social media campaigns, musicians disclosing their struggles with depression, substance abuse, and other disorders."
Latoya said the artwork which she feels most encapsulates her experience with mental illness is one in which she’s seen crying while claiming to be “fine” to a friend.
“I realized I had been lying to my friends for so long, I kept telling them I was fine when really I was so broken,” she said. “I didn’t want them to fuss over me or give me any sympathy so I just kept pretending I was okay. I think a lot of [us] are like this, we say we’re okay but we’re not.”
And she’s probably right. The work was one of her most well received postings with over 1,000 likes.
Twenty-year-old social media marketer Nay Clarke, who’s based in the U.K. went public with a mental illness that’s even more rarely discussed than depression: schizophrenia.
Clarke appeared on the first episode of his friend’s YouTube series which discusses a range of topics relevant to millennial audiences. In the episode focused on mental health, Clarke discussed his experience living with severe depression with bipolar tendencies, which he was initially diagnosed with. It wasn’t until recently that he was told he had schizophrenia.
“Just because I got diagnosed with schizophrenia does not mean it’s totally uncontrollable and I’m going to go out and kill 10 people like what they portray it to be like in the movies,” Clarke told HuffPost.
Aside from bringing light to the struggles of those with schizophrenia, by opening up about his tribulations, Clarke is helping to dismantle toxic notions of black masculinity.
According to the previously mentioned study from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, the suicide rate for African-American men is four times higher than that of African-American women.
He regularly shares words of inspiration on his Instagram page. For Mental Health Awareness Week in May, Clarke used his page as a platform for other social media users living with mental illness.
Clarke said that appearing on the “Car Convos” episode encouraged him to remain open about his experiences.
“It’s changed my life for the better and others too,” he said of choosing to be open about living with mental illness.
Clarke said he receives messages from other users telling him that his story has served as inspiration for them to talk about their own tribulations, especially from people of color.
“I’d say seven out of 10 messages I get is from someone black,” he said. “But they will always say they don’t want me to tell anyone they are suffering due to family members or friends not believing in mental health problems within their culture.”
Clarke said a young woman once told him that he even saved her life.
“What will always stick out to me is actually receiving a message from a young female saying because of what I post on social media and hammering away at the stigma, she thought twice about taking her own life and decided to seek help and battle her journey with mental health,” Clarke said. “That alone is worth me continuing to break the stigma and sharing my experiences with mental health to show it’s not all that bad.”