As someone brought up into an African-Christian home, I viewed many things through the lens of spirituality. This was very helpful to me and became a comforting coping mechanism for trauma; however, it robbed me of great reasoning. For example, if someone suffered from heart failure, I’d pay little attention to the fact that their lifestyle choices contributed to it and look at it as either a result of evil or the will of God to test their faith. I removed physical causation from my immediate realm of thinking and this negatively impacted my understanding of mental health. It became easier for me to view mental illnesses as a punishment, test or attack as opposed to the accumulation of very really life factors, tragedies, personalities and experiences. So when someone around me was suffering from poor mental health, I would encourage them to be stronger as instead of understanding that they may need support, professional help and reassurance.
I believe that these views are heavily perpetuated in our community and instead of using spirituality as an empowering component; we can sometimes use it as a pacifier. Instead of offering prayers and love to those that need it, we shame them for going through their troubles because they’re not prayerful enough. We use spirituality as a reason to not bother looking at underlying factors that could contribute to poor mental health as a means to tackle it practically (like we would for physical illness), but we find more comfort in believing in faith without work. Spirituality and practical approaches can go hand in hand; they are not opposing forces, in fact, spirituality can actually be a practical approach to mental health. Spirituality/religion and mental health both involve our thought mechanisms, what we allow our minds to consume, how we choose to perceive situations, how we affirm ourselves and many more similarities – they beautifully intertwine and can be so productive and encouraging when used in conjunction with each other.
Now that I’ve been enlightened I am able to make a more conscious effort to cater to my mental health, with the input of spiritual beliefs, before crisis, and to educate and care for those around me. This is important to me because I see how much more trouble the world throws at you for being black and therefore how much more likely you are to face stress and turbulent times. If we add unnecessary pressure from a means that can be so amazingly helpful, then we defeat ourselves in a world that is trying to already do so. We need to be there for each other in a practical sense, we need to empower each other wayyy before we hit rock bottom and know how to lift each other and ourselves if we do end up there.
By Shomi Williams (@Shomicita), mental health professional and founder of @LafiyaHealth