Ever since August 9th, 2014, I have been scratching at my brain, trying to figure out what I can do. Health issues prevented me from protesting. I tried to spread as much information as possible, but it didn’t feel like enough. Then I read a Huffington Post article about how African-American women are less likely to get treatment for depression.
I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be black, to live in 2015 and still feel like people judge you and treat you based on your skin color. I do know what it’s like to have depression, though. I know how it feels to not want to ask for help because my depression doesn’t feel real enough to me. I’ve spent weeks in bed, unable to feed or shower myself. When you’re depressed, those simple things feel impossible, never mind mustering up the strength to ask for help.
A report published by researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that poverty, parenting, racial and gender discrimination put black women — particularly low-income black women — at greater risk for major depressive disorder (MDD).
It becomes a vicious cycle. You can’t get ahead because you are depressed, and your depression gets worse because of your circumstances. The more depressed you are, the worse things get. You feel overwhelmed and simply freeze, give up.
In 2008, I started a pen pal support group for people with depression. I had to lay it to rest in 2011, but it was wildly successful during those three years. In the years since, many people have asked me to revive Letters of Love. After reading that Huffington Post article and the CDC study, it seemed obvious. There needs to be a support system for black women with depression.
Now, I know that there are going to be people who say that all people with depression need support. This is true. No one should feel alone. But these statistics are staggering, and I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when you are black and your family doesn’t believe in mental illness.
“During slavery, you were supposed to be the strong one. You weren’t supposed to speak. You were supposed to just do,” said Esney M. Sharpe, founder and CEO of the Bessie Mae Women’s Health Center in East Orange, New Jersey, which offers health services for uninsured and underserved women.
The stigma needs to end. Depression affects people of all colors. Eventually, my plan is to expand to other people of color, but first I want to focus specifically on black women. I want to empower black women to seek treatment by providing support. To me, support is:
- knowledge and education
- connecting with others
- improving self-esteem
- positive coping methods
This project is in super early stages. I have to move slowly (I have a lot on my plate right now, mainly my own health issues, and I know that I can’t help anyone else if I can’t help myself, first). I’ve decided to call it Colors of Depression. Right now, I’m mostly keeping a notebook and jotting down ideas, tweeting things when I can, using the hashtags #colorsofdepression and #blackdepressionsupport.
While in the shower this afternoon, I thought of a great way to provide support: care packages. They would be full of things like information brochures, slippers, and journals. Like I said, this is all very early stages. I would like to get an email list and website going, and then create a campaign to raise funds for care packages.
If you’re interested in being involved, please let me know! I can use all the help I can get.