The holiday season can bring joy and memories of togetherness for Black families and communities, but in reality, it can also be a mentally challenging time. On top of trying to operate as close to “normal” during a global pandemic, the holiday season brings Seasonal Affective Disorder, extra stress in dealing with family and disrupted holiday traditions that can be a reminder of our current climate.
For those taking care of someone, the mental and physical health toll weighs heavier. But, in a health field with a lack of cultural understanding and representation, the mental health toll can be hard to combat on top of barriers associated with awareness and treatment for mental illness. One approach to maintaining overall well-being during this holiday season is understanding that the best care starts by caring for yourself. It’s also important to consider personal capacity, community resources and grounding techniques.
“If you are not mentally well, how are you going to support someone?” Krystal Grimes, a mental health clinician in rural Central Texas and the founder of AMMA, which focuses on mental health resources, training and convenings. “Mental health is health, and if you’re not mentally well, you’re not going to be physically well.”
For BIPOC communities, care is communal, and caregiving is a natural expectation that extends beyond family and includes close friends and neighbors, according to Mental Health America. It’s also a role that’s often seen as an expected and a natural part of life, so seeking professional help outside the home or family isn’t so common.
Also, stigma leaves a gap in larger community knowledge and openness about personal battles with mental illness. The reality is that almost everyone goes through a mental health challenge at some point or another.
“We are oftentimes dependent on each other, and so we need to have open and honest conversations, not only with our faith but our friends and people in our community,” said Grimes.
Much of the stigma in Black communities around mental health is directly connected to a history of cultural disconnect with providers, a lack of access to resources and services, a distrust of government programs and abuse of Black people in the medical field. Caregivers also face lower socioeconomic status at a higher rate than other populations. Access to insurance can also be a barrier, especially in a field where insurance is less likely to cut down the cost of mental health services like counseling, therapy or medication.
As caregivers continue to provide care, knowing capacity, seeking accessible resources and using grounding techniques to cope are pertinent in an already challenging landscape.
Know your capacity and set boundaries
Setting boundaries can be hard. In conversations, especially online, we often joke about dealing with family members and friends who have a tendency to overreach or disrespect our personal parameters in childhood and adulthood, but it often affects how we interact.
“You have to be able to be OK with the word ‘no,’ and you also have to be convicted in the boundary that you said with other people,” said Asha Creary, a licensed professional counselor & CEO of Crave Counseling and a Hearts2Heal board member, which both provide community mental health resources. “The first part of setting boundaries is also identifying who you are … be okay with not sitting well with someone else’s interests.”
Seek help from a professional or the community
Sometimes seeking professional help from a clinician or therapist can be looked down upon and it’s also a challenge when trying to find a Black mental health provider. But community-based resources like local nonprofit organizations can be an accessible and affordable option.
“I believe it’s important to kind of go to websites that are meant for black and brown people and get as much information as you can,” said Creary. “And, if you’re not ready to start, go listen to someone’s podcast, go find and skim someone’s Instagram account and that’s not to say that it’s meant to replace therapy but it kind of gives you an idea and eyesight into what therapy can do for you.”
Therapy for Black Girls
Black Emotional And Mental Health (Beam)
Black Men Heal
Open Path Collective
Decolonizing Therapy Instagram
National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network
When life gets a little overwhelming, grounding techniques can offer a moment of solace and help cope with intrusive thoughts and feelings of inadequacy. It’s important to understand that you’re allowed to express your feelings in order to understand why emotions are impactful.
“There’s a lot of different things that you can do to ground yourself whenever you’re struggling with something,” said Creary, “so, if you’re struggling with anxiety, there are breathing techniques you can do, counting backwards from 5-4-3-2-1, you can trace your fingers, you can color in coloring books, do puzzles and you can also read.”
DaLyah Jones was born and raised behind the “Pine Curtain” of rural Deep East Texas. She is the former Director of Engagement and staff writer for the watchdog magazine Texas Observer. She’s also a former board member and Freedomways Fellow with movement journalism – journalism in service of liberation – collective Press On. DaLyah’s work in news and storytelling is aimed at providing coverage to and by historically disadvantaged communities in Texas, especially in the rural regions. Her past work can be found at NPR, Texas Monthly, NBC Think, OkayPlayer, Texas Highways Magazine and more.
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