Posts Tagged African American


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Guest blog: Take Time to See Beyond a Person’s Look (Maisha Howze)

Guest blog: Take Time to See Beyond a Person’s Look (Maisha Howze)

Maisha Howze (contributer) was going to be the featured speaker at our Recognition Event this year. However, due to Covid-19, we had to cancel this event. We are honored that Ms. Howze agreed to compose a special blog about beauty written specifically for Minority Mental Health Month 2020. (More about Maisha can be found after the blog.)

In today’s society, the outside appearance is very important to many people. We see it often: people focus on the ‘right’ filters and angles, the retake of a simple photo of friends and family at a social event can result in several retakes for people to ‘feel’ as though a good picture was taken before it can be posted on social media…some people have endured the pain of surgery to enhance their outside beauty. Others refuse to be seen without make-up, hair extensions, or hair dye. In 2018, the beauty industry was valued at $532 billion and is certain to continue to rise. There is a ridiculous number of companies (182), but they are only owned by 7 major leaders. It seems as if this is a one-sided industry controlled by an ‘elite’ who decide what is considered ‘beautiful’ for everyone else.

Although I do not believe the beauty industry strives to exploit insecurities or perpetuate the idea that people cannot present their natural selves. For those who may already have an existing internal struggle with self-worth, the need to be accepted by social beauty standards are at significant risk.

I believe this very thing has happened to many in the African American community. So many of us were conditioned to believe that a certain look is most acceptable by society. In some respects, some feel inferior if their natural look does not align with who they see on television or in the entertainment industry. The thought that ‘light is right’ led to many people using bleaching creams or an abundance of make-up on their skin. The thought that straight hair was somehow ‘right’ led to many people using chemicals to alter their naturally kinky hair. The thought that a thinner nose was ‘right’ led to many people having rhinoplasty (plastic surgery of the nose). The thought that a smaller waistline is ‘right’ led to many ‘tummy tucks.’ These are all things done to be more acceptable in society’s view. The struggle that some African Americans must be accepted or at the very least not be viewed in an unfavorable way can be a heavy burden to carry. The struggle with trying to appear ‘acceptable’ and still have the mental and emotional capacity to cope with your own internal struggles can lead to unstable health.

There is a lot of time and money focused on enhancements and ‘being beautiful’ on the outside. Enhancements are not a bad thing, but when this is done to cover-up issues that you are struggling with internally, it can be very detrimental. When you consistently cover-up who you are and what you are truly dealing with, it may be hard for others to see beyond your created self. Some say, ‘presentation is everything,’ but what does this really mean? Is the person’s presentation a true representation of who they are? Or are they covering up internal struggles?

Internal struggles can be past or present trauma, mental health and/or substance use challenges, familial discord, grief, disappointments, loss…the list goes on and on. These issues are at times buried so deep within the person it can be very difficult to recognize. Then the focus on external presentation may inhibit the ability to recognize a person’s issues may seem near impossible. But if you take the time to ‘insert a pause’ when interacting with people, you may be able to see beyond their ‘look.

As you journey through each day, do you take the time to truly see the person in front of you? Do you challenge yourself to go beyond the surface of what others may present? This is challenging, but it can be accomplished. This act of humility and compassion may literally save the person’s life. There are people that are truly suffering from internal warfare; they get up every day, go to work/school, interact with others, care for their siblings/children, care for parents/grandparents, attend church, participate in social activities – but because of their outside presentation, others would never know internal struggles exist.

Truth be told, that person was me! About 15 years ago, I was struggling with constant thoughts of suicide and even those closest to me had no idea.

They had no idea that I had daily thoughts of taking my own life.

In fact, people would often tell me that I looked like I always had it all together. That could not have been further from the truth. At times I felt like I was drowning, but if you were only focused on my outside appearance, you would never have known. I was a single parent of twins, in college, and working multiple jobs. But I was spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally drained.

I also had not healed from previous self-esteem issues. As a young person, I was teased because of my physical appearance; this was very difficult for me. I thought I had moved past those feelings of inadequacy and ‘not measuring up’ to those societal norms of beauty. On the outside, I had a ‘good presentation’ and I was sure to walk with my head held high. It was a struggle, but I felt forced to do so.

I was too afraid to let my head down even a little bit or miss a beat, because then others would know that I didn’t have it all together.

It can be a suffocating feeling to think that you must always ‘be on,’ not trip or allow others to see the vulnerability in you. I challenge you to not view this as a ‘trip,’ but as a calculated step towards healing. The healing process is taken step-by-step. You cannot approach your process without being honest with yourself first about those internal issues that you are struggling with, the challenges we try to cover-up and hide from others.

I am grateful that someone was able to see beyond my outside appearance. This person was not concerned with the origin of my issues, but instead that I start taking care of myself and begin the healing process. She could see that I was dealing with an internal struggle. Although she was not certain where my internal struggles came from, she was able to be supportive and help me through my inner turmoil. Her concern was not the where, but how I would transition from my place of hurt and when I would begin my process of healing.

Fast forward to now. I recently published a book entitled W.A.S.H. (Withstand All Strife to Heal): Time to Do YOUR Laundry. W.A.S.H. is designed to help the reader move from a place of withstanding the strife they have endured to a place of healing.

In the book, I talk about two different types of ‘stains’ (issues/concerns): ‘laundry stains’ and ‘life stains.’ Laundry stains are marks, possibly from ‘dirt’ that is not easily removed. Life stains are issues/concerns that have caused damage to you emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, etc. It is the life stains that some people strive so hard to cover up on the outside.

As a community, WE have a responsibility to support others through their healing.

Much like a laundry stain can spread and begin to negatively impact the other fabric in the laundry basket, this too can happen when someone in your community has a life stain that has begun to negatively impact them. Issues that a person is fighting internally can have a tremendous impact on the community. Internal struggles can manifest in different ways: unhealthy thoughts and actions, such as drug and alcohol use/abuse, unstable/untreated mental health conditons, criminal behavior, and a lack of attention to personal needs (employment, housing, children, etc.), just to name a few.

We know that the beauty industry, social media, and societal norms of a person’s appearance will most likely continue to be superficial. We know that many will continue to struggle internally and try to cover up their inner turmoil with perceived outside beauty. BUT, we also know THERE IS HOPE. There is hope that as a community, we can support those who struggle internally and support them on their healing journey to love themselves.

The time you invest in ‘seeing’ a person beyond their look can be invaluable and literally save their life.

About the Author: Maisha Howze has worked in the social services field for more than 20 years. She is currently the Administrator of Allegheny Co. Bureau of Drug & Alcohol Services. Ms. Howze is the owner of In Touch Consulting, LLC and the author of W.A.S.H.: Time to Do YOUR Laundry (see below). Maisha is passionate about community, healing, and mentoring young women. Special thanks to Maisha for sharing part of herself and her wisdom in this amazing blog.

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Guest Blog: Let’s talk about African American Men’s Mental Health

Guest Blog: Let’s talk about African American Men’s Mental Health

As we come to the end of Men’s Health Month, I wanted to talk about mental health from my perspective. I hope that in doing so you might find the common thread of human experience that binds us as a society.  In writing this, may I first say that I am not an expert on mental health.   However, I do get to play one at work each day in my role as a Recovery Specialist. Anyone who knows me will confirm my lack of authority on the topic, so I am in no position to preach to anyone.  However, I am quite willing to talk about what I know best, my story. My story is common in the African American male community.  You’ve seen it or presumed it, men neglecting their mental health to the detriment of their family, community and society.  I was no different, I waited until I was 50 and out of functional relationships to wake up and address a few things.

 

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I am a strong African-American Man. I am the parent of children who have grown up to contribute to the world.  I breezed through grad school with a 3.75. I’ve had a success filled career in Education and Mental Health Services that has lasted over 30 years.  I coached a high school basketball team that scored 82.0 points per game with only one player over 6’.  I was hit by a moving train and walked away relatively unharmed (and because of that).  I have earned the right to wear a cape and a big S for ‘superhero’ on my chest.

 

MMH blog 1Also, I am an African American male with a mental illness: depression. I have spent my share of hours in the therapist’s office.  I know recovery for me, is a process I must work on daily. At times, it takes a village to keep me on task.

I used to be ashamed and secretive of the reality of having depression, but now I’m proud of the life I live.  Now my life is an integrated whole, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

I know that pushing aside the leotard to reveal the inner workings of the person behind the S does not make me any less of a strong African American male.  Superhero status is not really required.  I cannot save the world and often I am the one who needs saving.  Like many people, I once felt that having a mental illness was a sign of weakness. So I avoided treatment.

 

As a mental health professional, I spent lots of time convincing people otherwise, but when it was my turn I felt going to the psychiatrist was a sign of failure.   I tried MMH blog 4running, yoga, drinking, smoking, meditation and most of self-help books in the Carnegie Library catalog.  Anything but mainstream medical attention.  I did not want to go to a psychiatrist because “nothing is wrong with me I’m not crazy!” But I had no issue going to the dentist, my primary care doctor, or orthopedist.

 

Like many African American males, I stigmatized mental illness in a way we do not stigmatize obesity, diabetes, hypertension and so many chronic and life-threatening illnesses prevalent in our community.  We take pills to lose weight or lower our blood pressure but not to get or stay mentally well.  According to the mythology that surrounds the strength of African American men, “falling apart” is just not something we do.  We survived the Middle Passage, slavery, racial oppression, economic deprivation and a few political campaigns.  We know how to “handle our business”, “be a man” but we see therapy as the domain of “weak”, neurotic people who don’t know what “real problems” are.

 

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So how do African American men begin to eliminate the stigma of mental illness so that we can get the help we need and support those who might need it? May I offer a few suggestions?

  • Talk about it.

  • Don’t whisper or gossip about it.

  • Talk about it at the party.

  • Talk about it at church.

  • Talk about it on TV/the radio/social media

  • With our loved ones

  • With our doctors

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If we can talk about our high blood pressure, our asthma, our lung cancer we can talk about our depression. Support each other in getting help.  We send friends to the doctor for nagging back pain, so send them to get relief from their mental and emotional pain too.  And don’t forget to be a friend and ask them how they are doing from time to time.  Don’t stigmatize the brain!  It is attached to the body, so mental illness is a physical illness.

 

Finally, support people who share their stories of mental health disorders.  It is time to show that the faces and lives of African Americans with mental illness are not just the faces and the lives of the homeless person talking to the unseen.  It is my face and my life and the faces and lives of others just like me.  “Coming out” requires courage.  Like any other consciousness raising process, a range of role models who represent a variety of experiences with mental illness will change perceptions.

 

As a local community we have a list of accomplished African American men to inspire us in our various endeavors.  Andrew McCutchen, Ju Ju Smith-Schuster and Coach Tomlin come immediately to mind.  We need a list of African Americans with mental illness who survived and thrived. No doubt MMH blog 3due to stigma it was difficult to find the names of locally well-known African Americans with a “confirmed” history of mental illness and this is not the place for gossip or rumor, so I will start the list with me:

 

My name is Bill Boyce and I have depression.  I am a father, athlete, artist, writer, musician, social activist, mental health professional and as sane and happy a person as you would ever want to meet. My mental health disorder does not define who I am.

 

-Written by Bill, STU Recovery Specialist

 

 

(The images above are African American males that have shared their experiences with mental health conditions: Kid Cudi, Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson, Wayne Brady, Jay-Z, and Brandon Marshall)

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