It makes me angry sometimes when I think of the pain, loneliness, sadness, and frustration that come with closeted depression. I am a 28-year-old Caribbean-American female from a deeply-religious family. Depression, therapy, and help are not topics of discussion. My family did the best they could, but like in many Caribbean and African-American families, the symptoms and afflictions of depression were never addressed. At best, you get prayed over or, in my case, you get offered the option of an exorcism.
As I look back on my life, I realize that I began to show signs of depression at an early age. At school, I was failing nearly every subject. Outside of school, I would spend days and weekends in my darkened room playing with matches while lying on my bed. Things reached their worst when I began taking classroom chalk home so that I could draw on my bedroom walls. I remember this now as a clear indication of a nervous breakdown. Why was I feeling this way? I do not know, but it was real, raw, and dark. It was a step beyond pain; I had become numb.
I look back and ask: "Why was no one there for me? Why did no one reach out to me and say something, anything?" Simple: In my experience, in Caribbean and African-American cultures, depression does not exist. There is no space for this difficult conversation, and this attitude persists.
I recently shared with my father that my therapist wanted me to go on anti-depressants. His response: That I needed to be more active, to get out more. On another occasion, I revealed that I sometimes felt like I was losing my mind. His response: "Go ahead." Yes, these comments were insensitive and ignorant, but they were not his fault. They are symptoms of a culture that continues to overlook the reality of mental illness. That, at worst, chooses to ignore the issue or, at best, chooses to pray it away. What we do not realize is that by continuing to do this, by continuing to remain silent and uninformed on the issues of depression and mental illness, we make it worse.
I wish there had been someone in my life to notice that I needed help, guidance, direction and support. I wish there had been someone there to see that I was struggling and drowning. If so, I might have gotten help much sooner. My life could have been much different.
I do not resent how my life has worked out. I do not write this to assign blame. I write this in hope that someone will read it. Someone with a child, sibling, or spouse will read it and think it is time for a very difficult conversation. Trust me: You want to have this compassionate conversation sooner rather than later, because if I had not gotten help when I did, I might not have been writing this now.
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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.