MLK and Mental Illness


mlk-dream-bannerI went to church yesterday. As is usual with most Unitarian Universalist churches, the day was spent in reflection of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those of us who are caucasian pinned pink ribbons to our tops, a reminder for the day that people are treated differently because of their skin tone and that as caucasians, we have a duty to acknowledge our ancestors’ history and challenge injustice whenever we witness it. I had planned to pen an elaborate post regarding my thoughts on the service.

Then I had a mental health episode. It was a rough night, and I struggled with old coping mechanisms such as self-injury and alcohol. This is not the life that I want to lead, and I recommit myself to my overall health – including my spiritual and mental health.

Today I began to wonder, what would Dr. King say about how we treat the mentally ill in this country. I found this blog and wasn’t surprised to learn that Dr. King himself often battled with depression. People who are challenged with mental illness tend to be some of the most self-reflective and empathetic people you will ever meet. It’s not lost on me that someone like MLK who spent his life thinking deeply about injustice would struggle with the psychological impact of such a dreary reality.

There is still a stigma against the mentally ill. I could never compare this to the experience that African Americans have had in this society. Yet I’m compelled to call out injustice wherever I see it, for mental illness is something that does not discriminate based on the color of your skin. If we know that mental illness is stigmatize, and that racial minorities are discriminated against, one would shudder at the injustice of mental illness within those communities. Unfortunately, culturally speaking, some groups balk even more at the thought of mental health treatment. My husband is from India and there’s a long history of denying the need for therapy and that one should fix things on their own, which is a damaging and dangerous perspective. Damaging because it belittles those of us who seek help. Dangerous because it suggests a path that almost always fails.

We need to speak out in all of our communities that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, rather it’s something that many of us will experience at some point in our lives, just like MLK did. There is no weakness in asking for help as it is true strength and courage that allows you to recognize that you can’t do it alone. Growing up, we’re not taught to deal with these issues, so we need to learn from those who can help us. Regardless of our backgrounds, there is a counselor that can meet our needs.

If you need any support in exploring these issues, please reach out to me. I’m listening.

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