It all started with a suicide attempt, eight months following T-Kea Blackman’s major depression and generalized anxiety disorders diagnoses. After 10 years of struggling with suicidal thoughts, she could no longer mask her pain. Upon waking up in a psychiatric unit, she knew hiding this secret was doing more harm than good. She often wondered why she could not tell family and friends about her illness, and that’s when she realized her community’s lack of acceptance and knowledge is preventing people of color from seeking treatment. This woman would go on to do her best to raise awareness for mental health issues in communities of color. 

This woman was me. I would say things to myself like "I cannot be mentally ill. I have a master’s degree from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree from Howard University," but I was mistaken. Just like so many others, I associated mental illness with people who talked to themselves in public and looked disoriented.

By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others to not give up on life even though they may be in a dark place and have no desire to come out. I understand. After being in a depression for so long, it gets comfortable — but then one day you will get to a breaking point. A permanent solution to a temporary problem was not worth ending my life. I did not understand that when I was sick, but I do now. There are resources to help you. You do not have to face anything alone.

As a result, I launched the Fireflies Unite podcast on January 1, 2018 via iTunes and on my website. The weekly podcast provides an in-depth conversation about mental health and illness within communities of color. It features interviews with individuals living with mental illnesses as well as mental health professionals. In addition, the podcast offers advice as to the best self-care practices and how to manage mental health, also providing listeners with the opportunity to engage by addressing their concerns via the journal entry segment. Mental illnesses such as major depression, bipolar generalized anxiety, eating and borderline personality disorders are discussed.

Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black individuals between the ages of 15 and 24, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of negative stereotypes about mental health, black people are less likely to receive treatment. The lasting impact of slavery, poor medical treatment as can be seen through examples like the Tuskegee Experiment, limited access to quality healthcare or education and poverty put black people at a high risk of developing mental illnesses.

According to the American Psychological Association, black people living in poverty are at risk to become victims of serious violent crimes, and this can be associated with meeting the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The association goes on to report that black people are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

The name for Fireflies Unite was birthed through my realization that the "mental health secret/stigma" was having an impact on me, as well as communities of color. Fireflies come out at night and create a beautiful light. When people battle with a mental illness or struggle emotionally, they often isolate themselves and are left in a place of darkness. By normalizing the conversation about mental health within communities of color, I am bringing light to the darkness in order to foster healing and mental wellness.

It is my hope that people of color will use the Fireflies Unite platform to access the resources needed to manage their mental health. I want to see my community healthy, despite the disadvantages and racism negatively impacting our mental health.

To learn more about Fireflies Unite, please click here or connect with me @firefliespod on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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