Words by Sara Allie
May was mental health awareness month and I felt compelled to tell the story that has affected my brother for the last 5 months.
My brother is 3 years younger than me yet always wanted to be the oldest. He was raised to be a traditional black boy: tough exterior and hidden emotions. He was also raised to protect the women he loves and to always be a “strong man” no matter what struggle in life he encounter. At a very young age, my brother’s intelligence excelled and he was skipped in school. By high school, my brother’s SAT’s scores landed him many opportunities for colleges. He decided to go to school in our home state due to family issues. At some point, family life affected him greatly that he decided to drop out of college. He wanted to protect and take care of my family, my mother in particular. I pushed and advised my brother to take care of him first and all other things will come accordingly. Personality wise, my brother stayed to himself and enjoyed his privacy. Besides family, he did not enlist many friendships. As we got older, we became really close, as we were the only people that understood our life struggles.
A month before his 24th birthday, my brother lost his cousin and best friend. Although the lost greatly affected all of my family, I worried more about my brother because our cousin was truly the only person he confided in and shared most of his memories with.A couple of months prior to my brother’s 25th birthday, my brother experienced a mental breakdown. He is still dealing with this mental breakdown and it is the hardest thing to watch.
He became extremely paranoid and uncertain in whom he could trust. He believed nothing happened by coincidence and someone was intentionally doing things to hurt him. He would call me and tell me that he believes someone is following him. He began to overthink everything in life tremendously. I watched my brother read intently the ingredients to a bag of chips to make sure he was not being poisoned. I watched my brother take my phone and hold it a certain way because he thought maybe someone was listening to our conversation. I watched my brother run away from me because he thought I was setting him up to be hurt. I watched my brother cry and pray in desperation because he was mentally broken. His mental stability had been lost and he could no longer feel safe anywhere.
I stood in the hospital room with my brother and watched the doctor examine my brother. I knew my brother was going through a mental breakdown and depression. Yet, my mom, who was convinced something was physically wrong with my brother, shot down my thoughts. After seeing an emergency room psychiatrist, my brother was diagnosed with panic attacks. The psychiatrists told us that it is imperative for my brother to see an outpatient mental specialist in order for the diagnosis to be complete. As I write this, my brother has yet to see an outpatient mental specialist. My family is the traditional black family who does not like to think about mental wellness. The reply that “Nothing is really wrong with him” or “He’ll get better, he just need time” is all too familiar within the black community. I have yet to understand the stigma that is placed upon the black community about mental wellness. Mental wellness means understanding that we can mentally break and that we may need professional help to get better. I think most black people, especially our parents’ generation believes mental instability does not exist or should not be talked about. Our parents’ generation has an image of a strapped person being forced into a mental institute and being forcefully given sedation. Sitting and talking to a therapist is also a foreign idea among the black community. We are taught to figure out our issues and deal with our problems as they come. In my family, black pride is prevalent as well as the belief that God will work everything out. I strongly believe in God but just as most people would go the doctor if they had cancer, we should go to the doctor for our mental wellness (when needed).
I promised my brother that I would always have his back and protect him as his big sister. Although my advice of sitting and talking to a therapist has been shot down by my mom, I will not give up on convincing my brother that talking to a therapist and learning coping mechanisms will be the best way to gain mental stability again.
My family is very private as any black family. Some things are not discussed and my brother is a very private man. I decided to share his story because we have to start having conversations among the black community about mental stability and mental wellness. My brother does not have a mental illness but has experienced a mental breakdown. It happens and we should be okay with seeking professional help. We should be advising our friends and family to go to therapy or seek professional help when needed.
Black community: let’s start having the conversation about mental wellness. Let’s stop having a negative viewpoint about mental wellness. Let’s stop silencing our feelings and issues and start addressing them, especially our black men.
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