A Perspective on Black Mental Health and Wellness
High-Functioning Depression, Anxiety and Life Dissatisfaction:
7 Things I Wish I'd Known Sooner
The theme for Black History Month 2022 is Black Health & Wellness. As a Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Black woman, I’d be remiss not to address these two areas in which I take up space. My goal in writing this is to go a little deeper into the wellness conversation and lean into what I’ve learned in my work and studies about Mental Health and Well-being.
This Black History Month arrived in the shadow of the sudden and shocking death of a Cheslie Kryst, former Miss USA, Extra TV news correspondent, Attorney, MBA, and all-around multi-hyphenated phenom. Cheslie was one of the four reigning American queens in the historic year of 2019, when Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe, and Miss America were all Black women for the first time. She tragically took her own life jumping off the 29th floor of her luxury Manhattan apartment building; sending shock waves through the international media and pageant communities. She was only 30-years old.
“How could someone so accomplished, so beautiful, and so adored take her own life?” Some semblance of this question is what many of us have asked ourselves.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States
Suicide is a major public health concern. In 2019, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,500 people. (1)
Suicide is complicated and tragic, but it is often preventable. Knowing the warning signs for suicide and how to get help can help save lives.
Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44. (2)
Among Black populations, suicide rates peak during adolescence and young adulthood, then decline. This is a different pattern than is seen in the overall U.S. population, where suicide rates peak in midlife. (3)
The story of Cheslie’s death has single-handedly shifted the paradigm on what we think depression, suicide, and mental health crisis look like. Suddenly we realized– you can have all the things most people desire: beauty, wealth, accomplishments, success, physical fitness, fame, and still struggle with life dissatisfaction. Cheslie’s death was a tragic and desperate attempt to finally find peace, as her final IG post mentioned just hours before her death.
An essay she wrote for Allure magazine presents an eerie look into her discomfort about turning 30 and the pressure she put on herself to achieve.
“Each time I say, “I’m turning 30,” I cringe a little.” “Society has never been kind to women growing older, with occasional exceptions for some of the rich and a few of the famous.” “Why earn more achievements just to collect another win? Why pursue another plaque or medal or line item on my résumé if it’s for vanity’s sake, rather than out of passion? Why work so hard to capture the dreams I’ve been taught by society to want when I continue to find only emptiness?” - Cheslie Kryst, A Pageant Queen Reflects on Turning 30, Allure
I wish she knew it was all okay. It was okay to feel restless, dissatisfied, insecure, and never enough. It is all a part of the human experience. I wish she knew you can have an emotional rough patch for a couple of months or even a couple of years before a cascade of fulfillment, life satisfaction, and self-realization that would ultimately make the entire journey, even the darkest parts, more rewarding.
Professionally, my clients are mostly Black women executives and entrepreneurs and Women of Color from various backgrounds (Asian, Middle Eastern, Latina.) I work in corporations doing corporate training and with solopreneurs/business owners doing group coaching classes. Mainly, I help women in business eliminate inner obstacles so they can be clear, confident, and free to create the life and career of their dreams. All this boils down to stress and anxiety management so we can get clear and focused on peace, purpose, and what brings joy. High-performing executives, business people, entrepreneurs, and accomplished thought leaders may carry an inner heaviness that sometimes no one even knows about.
Then, Turning 30 Enters the Chat. On top of the pressure to succeed at life, there’s added pressure being a woman in your thirties to find love (if you haven’t already), get married, become a parent, then be a perfect parent, continue to excel in successful careers, own profitable businesses, become homeowners, become wealthy and have intelligent and interesting things to say when asked to speak. All while gaining clout, traveling the world, taking perfect pictures, sharing it all in flawless IG stories or 160 characters or less. These pressures create exhaustion, unhappiness, overwhelm, anxiety, and depression.
Additionally, watching these pretty perfect seeming lives of others on social media creates dissatisfaction through comparison culture that emerges when we are bombarded with wonderful success stories, photos, and videos of people we know or used to know seemingly excelling at life. This obsession with perfection, attainment, and perceived success is robbing us of joy, peace, and satisfaction.
What I’ve found when working with successful but “stuck” professionals, high-functioning depressives, overwhelmed executives, and creatives with anxiety is that, when they do confide in those close to them, family and friends often don’t believe their unhappiness or internal struggle. After all, they have it all– the fab job/career, the house, the car, the degrees, the magazine features, the picture-perfect, “enviable life.” Responses to their struggles often sound like:
“Why would YOU be depressed?"
"You sound ungrateful."
"You're fine! Nothing is wrong with you. You just need to relax."
Or worse, they’re dismissed for talking “crazy” with comments like, “You sound crazy right now.” SMH.
When those struggling do open up, they’re often forced back into pretending and trying to cope on their own. Some high functioning depressives can be just ONE personal life challenge or internal struggle away from total hopelessness… We often don't even know until it's too late. If someone opens up to you, listen, support, encourage, and gently suggest pro help. Click here for what to say if you suspect someone is depressed or may hurt themselves.
The progression from low grade depression, depression to suicidal could take years and be punctuated by a lot of highs, wins, gains and celebrations. The good stuff gets posted on social media. While the abysmal lows stay shrouded, uncovered, and largely unknown.
The difference between someone thinking about suicide and doing it, is a matter of a really terrifying litany of premeditated suicidal thoughts and the uninterrupted, unfortunate opportunity to act on them. The depressive seclusion adds to the likelihood of succeeding at acting out the horrific ideation. WE NEED TO HELP EACH OTHER TO PREVENT SUICIDE.
If you are feeling the weight of depression, overwhelm or anxiety know that sometimes the people closest to you are not always going to be the right individuals to go to for support. Be thoughtful as you select the person you want to talk to about your inner life struggles. Keep in mind that your current support system may not be the right people to talk to for certain sorts of experiences, traumas, mental health issues, or complicated struggles. They may mean well but don’t have the tools to understand or support you. In that case, you may decide to reach out to a professional, who is qualified, unbiased, and can be an outsider observing with no invested ties to (or judgments on) your situation.
Where can busy, overwhelmed professionals get help?
If you need a therapist, schedule an appointment with CLG True Solutions, Cynthia Guy is a gifted Therapist who specializes in helping women find their voice. And she’s affordable for those without insurance.
For Career Development Coaching, reach out to Irina Pichura.
For the support of a Life Coach, I am here to help you to build your life + career from the soul up and 10X Your confidence to so you can be bold, attain career/ business goals, start to create freedom with time & money, and a juicy lifestyle you enjoy.
"We must also be willing to seek the help of licensed professionals who will assist us, through talk therapy and/or medication, on our journey towards wellness. There is nothing weak or defeatist about seeking help. It doesn’t mean we’ve given up or that we lack faith. It simply honors the truth that we are at our best when we are in community with others." - Candice Marie Benbow
Do you need to talk to a 24-hour Crisis Center?
You may also reach out to National Mental Health America:(https://mhanational.org/get-involved/contact-us)
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center or text MHA to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.
You can also call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 at the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline. Trained crisis workers will listen to you and direct you to the resources you need.
This Black History Month, in honor of Cheslie Kryst, in honor of holding ourselves to a higher standard, let’s really lean into our ability to make space for mental health support and overcoming challenges, together. Below I have a list of the 7 things I wish I knew sooner about Mental Health & Wellness. Please feel free to share this blog with your loved ones and colleagues who may find it useful.
Here Are 7 Things I Wish I Known About Mental Health & Wellness Sooner
1. What depression and anxiety actually look, sound, and feel like.
Many of us do not know what the experience of depression is like. It's largely idiosyncratic (unique to each individual). But some signs to look for when you’re not feeling yourself:
A low mood or loss of interest in life or things you used to enjoy.
feeling sad, hopeless, or helpless
feeling guilty or worthless
irritability or frustration
fatigue or low energy
changes in appetite or weight
loss of interest in things once enjoyed, including hobbies and socializing
trouble concentrating or remembering
changes in sleep patterns
moving or talking more slowly than usual
loss of interest in living, thoughts of death or suicide, or attempting suicide
aches or pains that do not have an obvious physical cause
What Anxiety looks, feels, and sounds like…