Dear Black Women, We Can’t Pray Mental Illness Away


By: Lenora Houseworth

What words come to mind when you think self-care? Bubble baths, facial masks and meditation apps? If you haven’t already noticed, the self-care revolution has become big business--and with good reason. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from stress and depression, with Black women uniquely impacted by race-related daily stress. It took me many years and my own mental breakdown before I understood that self-care is more than lighting candles on #SelfCareSunday. It also took me being 30+ and a depression diagnosis in my 20's to realize prayer does not cure mental dysfunction and distress. For many black women, church is and always has been the only power source for mental and emotional maintenance.

And it’s killing us.

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Whitney McNulty
“We can’t just show up to church religiously every Sunday and think that our problems will just disappear without us putting in any effort. Just like we wouldn’t get hit by a car and head straight to church with broken bones instead of the ER,” says Whitney McNulty, a mental health advocate with a Masters in Psychology. “We shouldn’t just be struggling mentally and not seek out professional help/therapy.”

McNulty created her own empowerment business and Christian dance ministry in New York City inspired by her own journey after being diagnosed with depression and panic disorder in 2012 and again in 2014.

“I don’t think treatment and spirituality are mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe the best healing comes when you join the two together. The way I see it, receiving treatment and learning strategies to heal ARE a part of self-care” she says.

McNulty recommends for anyone who has experienced any type of trauma, especially violence or abuse in any way (physical, sexual, emotional and verbal), to seek therapy as soon as they can.

Minaa B
Licensed psychotherapist and mental health consultant Jessmina “Minaa B” Archbold agrees.

“I think it's great that black women are in tune with their spiritual side and if church helps with watering their sense of self that is great also. I do, however, think it is important to know that you can be a spiritual person and still be in need of help and that is okay. The church is not the only place on earth that can bring you restoration and healing.”

Archbold’s practice focuses on clients dealing with depression, anxiety, and life transitions. As a Christian, she offers faith-based treatment for clients if they prefer. She asserts it is important for church leaders to be trained on mental healthcare so they can recognize the signs that it’s time to get professional help because they can be easily missed. She says,

“If you are depressed you need to be aware of your motivation level, eating/sleeping habits and how that has shifted in a two week period. If someone is bipolar are they having manic episodes? Overly joyed, talking rapidly, having inappropriate outbursts/anger or hallucinating? Is the person feeling overwhelmed every time they wake up in the morning? Is he/she constantly sweating, breathing heavy, consumed by irrational fears? This could be a sign that a person is struggling with an anxiety disorder."
There is a lot of education that still needs to be done because there is still so much stigma attached to mental health/illness. Therefore, here are a few more signs that Archbold says you can look for if you think you or someone you love may be suffering from mental illness:

You avoid people, new and old.
Often isolation occurs when dealing with a mental illness, people tend to stay away from friends, family and their peers.

You feel guilty and worthless
Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and lack of motivation are keys signs that a person could be struggling with depression. These warning signs also lead to suicide intent so it is important to be mindful and aware of how a person sees their quality of life and their purpose.

Emotional outbursts are a norm
Disorders like bipolar l and ll include manic episodes which can cause someone to have emotional outbursts that are euphoric, aggressive or extreme irritability. Mania often requires hospitalization because it gets so intense for the person having the experience and the people around them.

Increased sexual desire
Some disorders curb your libido like depression, most people experience a low sex drive, while others with other mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, can see an increase in their sex drive due to their mania. Hyper sexuality is a symptom in bipolar disorder that isn't talked about often.

You can’t stop worrying
Worry plays a huge role in anxiety, but can be seen in other mental illnesses as well. It is important to seek professional counseling such as cognitive behavioral therapy to help with thoughts that often control behaviors.

Once we start owning our narratives and understanding that it is okay to ask for help, then we will be able to serve others in a better capacity.

To find out more information about mental health disorders and where to get help, please visit: The American Psychiatric Association

Do you seek help outside of a church when you're struggling mentally? 
Lenora Houseworth-Weston is a social media strategist and writer based in Jersey City, NJ by way of the Windy City. Her work has been seen in places such as Yahoo.comGlaad.org and BlackEnterprise.com. Jay-Z lyrics and avocados are her life. Follow her adventures on Instagram @LenoraSheWrote!

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