talking about mental health in an african home pt. 2

Welcome!

Author’s Note: Hi my wonderful readers and welcome back to the Life of an African Girl in America! I hope you are all doing well.

We are back babyyyyyy. Wow. It has been a minute. I haven’t been active because your girl is now in school. Yes, I am a graduate student now studying Counseling Psychology. My concentration is in school counseling. Honestly, if you asked 18 year old Diakha if she would ever pursue school counseling, she would’ve laughed. But, here we are.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post titled, mental health in an African home and at the time, I was an undergrad student studying psychology. Now, I am revisiting this same topic because a lot has not changed. Well, I have changed. I have decided to continue my counseling psychology journey for the sake of helping and educating my own community. Over the past few years, I have always tried to have an open and candid relationship with my parents. I took over our relationship, not to control it, but to find a balance. My parents will always have the mindset of “I am the parent and you are the child.” But as I have gotten older, I have noticed a change in them. How they view me- as if I am the parent. The dependence. The yearning for care. I noticed sadness in their eyes. The silence.

Our home has always been quiet. We’ve been through a lot of traumatic events, which we barely speak about. I try my best to check in with my brothers, specifically the youngest. One thing I have noticed over the years is how my mom talks to me about her pain. I listen carefully because that is the least I can do for her. No matter what is going on, I always make sure to ask everyone in the home how they are doing. For me, it’s a great way to start the conversation. How are they really? But, sometimes this is not reciprocated. My parents do not ask me how I am mentally. Usually, they only ask if I am okay when I am physically ill. I can walk around the home, depressed, and I never hear, “Diakha are you okay?” Or, when I tell them how I really feel about being the eldest daughter who carries a lot on her shoulders, and they aren’t listening.

In my African household, my goal since college was to start the conversation about our mental wellbeing. Even if my parents refused to ask me how I am, I told myself to not give up on them. If I don’t start the conversation then who will? My next goal is to educate them, overcome this barrier and stigma. We’re making progress, I know it’s small, but it’s progress. My mother talking to me openly about how she feels is progress. I would like for the next step to be my mother attending a therapy session, but that will be difficult due to the language barrier and cultural differences. If I can find a therapist for her that speaks French, we can make it work.

For my fellow Africans, let’s not be shy. To practice now on speaking about mental health and wellbeing in your homes will definitely prepare you for your future family. It should not be taboo to talk about how we feel. Simple check-ins are helpful. Encouraging your family to take a day or two for themselves. Having a family conversation and creating a strong family support system. Seeking professional help. Creating a safe environment in the home (being inclusive).

I barely touched the surface in this blog post. There’s a lot to be discussed especially when it comes to our family members who have mental health conditions. How do we overcome the stigma surrounded by those conditions? How do we educate our family members who are in denial?

It starts with you. Yes, you, reading this post. Take the steps needed. Take the initiative. If you would like to talk more about this topic, please feel free to reach out.

Thank you for reading! More on this topic coming soon.

Written by: Diaka Thiam

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