Representation Matters: Mental Health Support
People of color struggle to find needed mental health support
I remember feeling stunned upon hearing of Cheslie Kryst’s suicide in 2022. While I didn’t know her name, I knew her face. In 2019, she won the Miss USA title and showed the world that natural hair is beautiful. At the time, I was just beginning to embrace my natural curls and she proudly wore hers with confidence.
As I read through the breaking news story, I saw a reflection of my own struggle with anxiety and depression. A private struggle that over the years, left me feeling ashamed and hopeless. Yes, even as a Christian who knew all the verses, promises, and truth, some days were just too dark to see even a speck of light.
Like the time…
I sat, razor blade in hand, contemplating if I should live or die. What would it matter? Would anyone care if I were gone?
Or the time I called my mom at 3 am to pick up our infant son because I couldn’t have him in the house. The doctor said I was fine. I knew I wasn’t, and so did my mom. A year later, I heard the words “postpartum depression” for the first time.
Or the time I couldn’t get out of bed for months following a miscarriage because the grief and sadness were too much.
Or the countless times my husband has had to drive specific routes to dinner or the grocery following my preferred directions because I was paralyzed with anxiety, convinced we’d be in a car accident.
To some, Kryst might have appeared to have it all. She was successful, intelligent, and beautiful. She held multiple degrees, worked as both a news correspondent and attorney and was a social justice advocate. Family and friends say she was loving, kind, compassionate, funny, and a servant to others. But did they know about the internal battle waging inside?
On the outside, I looked like that too — a loving husband, incredible kids, a fulfilling career, and amazing friends. Yet, there were days when the darkness was all-consuming, threatening to suck me back into the deep canyons inside myself.
Like myself, Kryst was also a Mixed Race woman. Her mom is Black. Her dad is White. My mom is White. My dad was Puerto Rican. Why is this important?
Because regardless of which box you check, when you are Mixed Race you experience the world differently. Your challenges and questions are unique. I know how it feels to constantly teeter between worlds and identities, never completely fitting into either.
I don’t know the details of Kryst’s story, what she felt, or the steps she may have taken to seek help. What I do know are the challenges I faced when I tried to seek help.
First, was the inner turmoil of suffering in silence, terrified of what others would think if they knew how hard I fought every day, combined with the sense of guilt and shame; guilt for acknowledging the great life I have wasn’t enough and shame for not being able to fix myself.
Next came the feeling of being misunderstood. Once I finally mustered up the courage to say, “I need help,” I was told, “It’s not that bad” or “You should be grateful.” Both responses just added to the shame and guilt I already felt.
Still, I tried. I scrolled through website profiles trying to find a professional who looked like me because if representation mattered when it came to my curls, then how much more did it matter in this critical moment? However, after two years of searching and coming up empty, I finally gave up. I saw a couple of counselors and a doctor. I tried their tips and took their medicine, but nothing changed. Later I learned that was because they only treated the symptoms, not the root of my anxiety, sadness, and loneliness that led to depression.
It’s exhausting to weed out the garden of your soul to a stranger who doesn’t really understand.
Education isn’t a substitute for a shared experience.
Healing eluded me until I found someone who, being a woman of color herself, was able to understand the source of my pain because she has walked a similar path full of similar experiences.
During my search, I learned that resources and skilled professionals that look like me, experience the world like me, and understand the challenges I face, are extremely limited. It’s not that we (people of color) don’t seek or want help. It’s that once we look, we discover it rarely exists. And when it does, it may take several weeks or months to get an appointment.
I faced that reality. When I finally found someone who sounded like a good fit, I was told their first available appointment would be in two months. I was in such an emotional crisis that I wasn’t sure I had two days. I knew two months was out of the question.
A dear friend noticed and became very concerned for me. She begged me to try someone else, and I reluctantly agreed. She helped me find a therapist who had an opening the same week. While this therapist wasn’t a great fit, she kept me going until I found someone who understood my needs and with whom I felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable and honest.
Maybe Kryst wanted help too.
Maybe she tried to find someone.
Maybe she was too tired to keep trying.
Representation mattered when I saw myself in Kryst the day she won the Miss USA title with her natural beautiful curls. It mattered on January 30, 2022, when I read she’d passed away. It matters in times of celebration. It matters in times of tragedy. And it matters every day in between.
Are you trapped by anxiety, loneliness, fear, or depression?
DIAL 988 if you’re having thoughts of suicide.
Friend, you’re not alone, even on the days when it feels like it. In our face-paced world, it’s easy to feel invisible, anxious, and alone. We each long to be seen, known, and loved. We need to cling to hope when everything around us feels hopeless. Friend, that’s why Jesus came. He didn’t come just to bring hope to the world. He came to BE YOUR HOPE!
You matter to God.
You matter to me.
God created you on purpose for a purpose. If you need a safe space to talk, know you can email me directly. I’m honored to listen and help connect you to mental health support in your area.
Have a story of hope over mental health? We’d love to hear it! Share it in the comments as an encouragement to others.
I’m cheering for you!
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A Little Something Extra…
Each week, I like to share a little something extra, something I’ve found fun or helpful. It might be a post, book, podcast, tv show, movie, song, Bible verse…or something else I think you’ll enjoy.
This week I have a couple of extras for you!
First - Meet J.S. Parks
J.S. is husband, father, hospital chaplain, 6th-degree black belt, and author of several books on mental health, including his personal struggle. As a Korean American, he is a voice for the AAPI (Asain American Pacific Islander) community.
A few years ago, I realized I needed to learn from different voices and experiences. J.S. Parks was one of the social media accounts I began following. His raw honesty and genuine vulnerability continue to challenge me to do the same. I’ve learned so much from his wisdom, as a follower of Jesus and as a mental health advocate.
You can follow J.S. Parks on Instagram or Twitter. Check out his books at Amazon.
Second - Weeds in My Garden Mental Health Series
Let’s be honest, the church hasn’t always done a good job of acknowledging and supporting those who suffer from mental health challenges. As we know better, we do better. So in recognition of mental health awareness month, my church has been in a series called, Weeds in My Garden. Find encouragement & resources from our message series, podcast, website, and downloadable playlist.
- Worry & Anxiety
- Stress & Burnout
- Self Harm & Suicide
- Mental Health of Kids & Teens
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