Everyone experiences mental health differently. Sometimes, our differences are small, forgettable even. But in others, they span cultures, languages, and histories. July is BIPOC Mental Health Month, and we’re taking an extra moment to listen, to reflect, and to share the stories of individuals who are underrepresented and oppressed. Changing the narrative around mental health requires each of us, not despite our differences, but because of them. We reached out to our BIPOC Active Minds Speakers to share their experiences and journeys with mental health.
Diana Chao is a first-generation Chinese-American from Los Angeles currently studying geosciences, history, and diplomacy at Princeton University. Diana was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 13-years-old and in her darkest moments, she discovered healing through writing. Adopting the motto “writing is humanity distilled into ink.”
What do you do daily for your mental health?
The arts! Music! Stories! I love it all. Indulging in the arts helps me embrace something bigger than me for a moment and share in another’s humanness, which keeps me from feeling alone or lost.
How have the impacts of social injustices and unfair equity affected your mental health?
As a first-generation low-income immigrant student, I’ve had my share of stresses growing up and applying to school. I’ve had people dismiss my words because of my accent, make fun of my clothes as “Communist” because they were red, and hit me for speaking Mandarin in public. For a long time, this made me feel ashamed and terrified of my identities.
How is mental health discussed in your community? (culture, family, friends, work, etc.)
My community doesn’t openly talk about mental health, but we’re getting better! Gossip is tough but strength in my community really shines through when we need to be there for each other.
How has your cultural experience shaped your mental health?
It has added to some stressors while teaching me to heal from others. I am learning everyday how to extract growth and strength from it while reframing the elements of it that ended up toxic in my own life.
Abraham Sculley understands the importance of using his story and experiences to educate and inspire others, whether for one-on-one conversations or while speaking to an audience. Abraham graduated from the University of West Florida with his bachelor’s degree in Psychology and is now a certified Mental Health First Aid advocate.
What do you do daily for your mental health?
The first time I became aware of my mental health was after being diagnosed with major depression during my freshman year of college. That experience taught me the importance of prioritizing self-care and developing a routine for my mental health. I learned a lot of tools from therapy, many of which still serve me today, especially during a global pandemic. My morning routine is non-negotiable and I call it my mental training sessions. I start my day off with prayer, positive affirmations, deep breathing exercises, journaling, reading my bible, and working out.
How was mental health discussed in your household?
Growing up as the oldest son of two Jamaican immigrant parents, we talked about many things but mental health wasn’t a topic of discussion. Also, my religious upbringing taught me that mental illnesses were treated only through prayer and that individuals who struggled with their mental health were a result of a lack of faith or a means of punishment by God.
How has stigma affected your decision to seek, or not seek help for your mental health?
It took me a long time to share that I was struggling with my mental health because I was too afraid to be labeled as being weak or making excuses. Instead of showing “weakness” I taught myself how to suppress a lot of my feelings and found not-so-effective ways to cope with different stressors. Stigma played a huge role in my approach to seeking help and it wasn’t until things got worse before I decided to finally get help.
Why do you advocate for mental health?
As a black man, I understand the unique challenges that we face when it comes to opening up about our mental health and seeking help. The expectation of appearing strong at all times does not allow us to be human. We often suppress our real emotions because of the belief that we have to figure it all out by ourselves. Believing these lies kept me suffering in silence for a long time, and I advocate for mental health so that others who are struggling can hear my story and realize that they are not alone and that there is help available.