I have a question to pose to you… Are you a swamp or a river? I want you to really ponder this question for a minute. Let me help you put this question in perspective. First we must break down the two bodies of water that are referenced in the question and get an understanding of what the difference is between the two. A swamp is created when water collects in low lying areas remaining trapped there with no outlet. Being that there is no outlet available there is no constant flow of minerals and oxygen in that water, which ultimately leads to that collection of water becoming stagnant and absent of life. When you think of a swamp you think of gloominess, darkness, and unpleasantness. You think of sadness and death. A river on the other hand is full of life. It constantly flows. When you think of a river you think the exact opposite of a swamp. Words such as refreshing, invigorating, and energy can be words that describe a river. You think of happiness and life.
Hopefully by now I have you thinking of swamps and rivers, the images of the two bodies of water, and the vast differences between the two. In all actuality a swamp is like the antonym of a river. Take that and apply it to the mind and our lives. A swamp can represent an unhealthy mind while a river can represent a vibrant, healthy mind. Now ask yourself….what is an unhealthy mind? A mind that is unhealthy is one that may be suffering from a mental illness of some sort. Let’s take it a step further…what is a mental illness? The Mayo Clinic defines mental illness as “a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that may affect your mood, thinking and behavior”. Some examples of mental illnesses are depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and addictive behaviors. We all know someone, if not ourselves, that have suffered or is currently suffering from one or more of these examples. Let’s focus more on the definition of mental illness; particularly the part that says the illness “may affect your mood, thinking and behavior”. This part of the definition is very important. By affecting your mood, thinking, and behavior in such a way that a mental illness more than likely will, your daily living/functioning is impacted, which leads you to changing how you go about your day-to-day life. Your actions may become anti-social in a way. For example with depression one may become withdrawn from people or activities; with anxiety one may constantly worry which may cause that person to avoid people or activities. Think about the mental illness of depression which in many men of color goes untreated. What effect does depression have on your mind and your ability to function normally in day-to-day activities? We must be very honest with our answers to this question. Depression leads people to be trapped in their own mind and life becomes very complicated…especially if the depression goes untreated. The communities of people of color often downplay mental illnesses such as depression and we tend to not seek the professional help needed to manage the symptoms of the illness. We prefer to silently suffer than to seek the help that will allow for normal functionality.
Now remember what I said about swamps and rivers as we look further into the effects that mental illnesses tend to have on people lives. Mental illnesses lead you to becoming more like a swamp. Mental illnesses that go untreated can lead to consequences that negatively impact your life. Mental illnesses lead a person that was once vibrant and full of life, like that river, to become secluded and unpleasant, like that swamp. It is very important that the African American community understand that the topic of mental health has to be addressed and it needs to be discussed in great detail within our communities in order for everyone to be educated on what the mental illnesses are, what the signs and symptoms of them are, and how to treat them. The taboo behind mental illnesses in our communities needs to be overcome. You are not “crazy” if you have a mental illness. You are not a monster if you have mental illness. It’s ok to seek help.
Just because you have a mental illness doesn’t mean that it is the end of the world. Men are prideful creatures that take pride in strength and courage. It takes a strong and courageous man to face the fact that he may be suffering from a mental illness. As we all know mental illnesses can be treated, but if you choose not to do something about it by not seeking help more problems will more than likely occur in your life. Remember mental illnesses have an effect on your mood, thinking, and behavior. Admitting that you have a mental illness is the first step to recovery. The second step, however, is the most important step but oftentimes go unmade in men of color and that is actually seeking help to rehabilitate your mind. To fix a mind that has now become a swamp, you have to open up an outlet in order to let the mind become a river again…a free flowing mind that doesn’t have the constraints that a mental illness will place upon that mind. Treatment is necessary. Just like one has to seek professional help to address illnesses that physically affect the body one has to seek professional help to address illnesses that affect your mentality as well. The demographic that is less likely to seek that professional help for mental illnesses is people of color. Men, we must move to fix this problem!
Now ask yourself….is your mind a swamp or a river? If you have a mental illness or you feel that you may have a mental illness I challenge you to seek help. I challenge all men to step up and encourage people in their lives to seek help if they have signs of any form of mental illness.