The anti-Black history behind anxiety in our community, and 3 ways to tackle it
By Jay Connor
This summer, rapper Logic released his highly-anticipated third album, Everybody, to the delight of fans, cash registers, and Def Jam alike. Bolstered by its buoyant lead single “Black Superman”, Everybody elbowed Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 1 the hell out the way to debut at No. 1 in the country, with approximately 247,000 units sold.
But for all the champagne and fanfare celebrating the latest release from the heir-apparent to the rap crown Jay-Z will one day concede, one song was conspicuously absent from the deluge of commentary and critiques: “Anziety”. A track as ambitious as it is grammatically awry, “Anziety” boldly sets its namesake in its crosshairs:
Channeling his own harrowing experience with anxiety as a blueprint, over disheveled snares and the haunting bellows of a choir, Logic barks: “I’ma get up in your mind right now! Make you feel like dying right now!” By simulating the intensity and disarray of an actual anxiety attack, a song that was once warm and invigorating inexplicably transforms into a tsunami of scorn and upheaval.
But as every storm has its subsequent calm, songstress Lucy Rose ends the song by culling us from the wreckage with assurances that “everything will be okay,” while the long-lost orchestra that abandoned us earlier returns to alleviate our despair. Logic leverages this opportunity to unveil his own deeply personal journey with anxiety:
“My body grew weak. And soon enough I found myself in a hospital bed being told what I went through was anxiety.”
In an age when mental health awareness within our community is more pervasive than ever before—so much so that #SelfCare is a common call to arms on our social media newsfeeds—how can an artist of Logic’s stature devote an entire song to such an important topic yet nobody is talking about it? More importantly, as a community, why do we dismiss anxiety so casually?
Anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in the United States; the International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research asserts that approximately 42.5 million adults, or 21% of our population, currently suffers from an anxiety disorder. Yet somehow, though highly treatable, only one-third of those diagnosed actively pursue treatment.
Also of note is that anxiety disorders are often accompanied by eating disorders, ADHD, and debilitating bouts of depression. In fact, nearly half of those diagnosed with depression discover that they are suffering from an anxiety disorder as well.
Though generally a byproduct of a multitude of risk factors, sources of anxiety include, but aren’t limited to: brain chemistry, genetics, and life experiences. Life experiences in particular—specifically our perpetual and prolonged exposure to racism and discriminatory behavior (in addition to unfavorable presidential election results)—serve as a key contributor to anxiety within our communities. Communities which are already predisposed to significant mental health risks due to our generally lower socioeconomic status in comparison to our white counterparts.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health explores these disparities further:
- Black people are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults.
- Those of us living below poverty are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above it.
- We’re more likely to express feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than white adults.
- Black teenagers are 8.3% less likely than white teenagers to complete suicide, yet 6.2% more likely to attempt it.
As Anxiety.org notes, this chronic exposure to systemic oppression manifests into an avoidance of valued action, perceptions of lack of control, and internalized racism via negative self-evaluation. Each of which directly correlates into amplified degrees of stress and anxiety.
Additionally, we suffer from what’s been identified as “racial battle fatigue”. Our racial anxiety transforms into physical ailments such as headaches, elevated blood pressure, an increased heart rate, and other alarming maladies often times out of our control. This doesn’t even account for how our productivity, happiness, or overall quality of life are impaired by these factors.
Though anxiety can be triggered by something as innocuous as a wedding, it can also be triggered by scenarios as ominous as a traffic stop. During my eight years as a social worker with at-risk youth, I witnessed first hand how varying levels of anxiety not only crippled households, but in turn bled into ill-prepared communities of color.
In addition, I’ve experienced this first-hand having my own struggles with social anxiety throughout my life. The mere thought of leaving my apartment to grab a drink with friends, or even returning a text message, can sometimes prove to be insurmountable tasks. If left untreated, anxiety disorders not only have the potential to become debilitating, but to emerge without any apparent provocation. But here’s where things get tricky:
Though the U.S. pours more than $42 billion a year into the research and treatment of anxiety disorders, per the National Medical Association, Black people are not only less likely than our white counterparts to seek treatment, but we’re far more likely to tap into our “informal networks.” Convening with Reverend Deacon Pastor Jones is far more instinctive than soliciting an actual licensed professional, in part because of the extensive history of exploitation and experimentation that Black patients have endured at the hands of medical institutions.
Additionally, for those of us who do seek out traditional psychotherapy, obstacles such as misdiagnoses, limited representation (as it pertains to Black therapists), or a lack of multicultural competency are commonplace. This leaves many of us at the unfortunate mercy of self-medicating. And, because of that whole racism thing I mentioned earlier, we’re responsible for 37% of drug arrests despite occupying only 14% of regular drug users.
Though this may make things sound a bit grim, here are three things to know that offer light at the end of the tunnel:
IT’S OKAY TO TALK TO SOMEBODY
In combating anxiety, one of the most effective forms of treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Though the representation of Black psychologists is limited, we are far more plentiful among the ranks of master’s level clinicians, counselors, and clinical social workers.
It should also be noted that while cultural competency training is mandatory in most states, every swing at the plate isn’t a home run. As such, Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett recommends asking your designated licensed mental health professional the following questions in order to assuage your apprehensions:
- Have you ever treated an African American with an anxiety disorder?
- I’m concerned that you may not fully understand issues pertaining to my African American heritage and anxiety. Do you feel as though you can?
- Have you been trained in multicultural issues?
MEDICATION IS PERFECTLY FINE TOO
Though medication is preferable to some, it’s not an antidote. It relieves symptoms, but does not cure anxiety disorders. That being said, medication can either be prescribed as a precursor to psychotherapy, suggested in the event your response to therapy is unsatisfactory, or provided in concert with therapy. These include antidepressants, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers (such as propranolol or atenolol), and in some instances anticonvulsants.
The National Institute of Mental Health recommends discussing the following with your designated licensed mental health professional:
- How well medications are working or might work to improve your symptoms
- Benefits and side effects of each medication
- Risk for serious side effects based on your medical history
- The likelihood of the medications requiring lifestyle changes
- Associated costs of each medication
- Other alternative therapies, medications, vitamins, and supplements you are taking and how these may affect your treatment
- How to conclude taking prescribed medications. It’s inadvisable to abruptly stop taking medications that require your doctor’s supervision.
ALTERNATIVE MEANS OF TREATMENT
As both patients and healthcare professionals explore alternative methods to treat anxiety disorders, practices such as yoga, acupuncture, stress and relaxation techniques, and mediation are becoming increasingly popular. But never underestimate the power of a strong support system, comprised of your family and friends, or an impeccable self-care regimen.
To specifically combat exposure to racism, Anxiety.org has some excellent suggestions.
Additionally, if you have immediate concerns regarding your anxiety, MentalHelp recommends the following crisis lines. All of which are free and fully equipped to address your needs:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- Available Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm EST, this organization is not only trained to answer a wide range of questions on anxiety and mental health issues, but provide referrals to resources such as treatment programs, support groups, and educational programs.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- This hotline is available 24/7 and is not only suited for instances of severe anxiety, but Veterans (1-800-273-8255), Spanish speakers (1-888-628-9454), and the hearing impaired (1-800-799-4889) each have dedicated lines. You also have the option of live chatting with a crisis volunteer on their website.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- If you are seeking professional assistance for your anxiety, but aren’t in danger of harming yourself or others, this is the number you should call. Not only do they provide 24-hour support in both English and Spanish, but they’ll assist you in locating the nearest mental health facility that specializes in anxiety. As well as any necessary support groups or substance abuse treatment programs if need be.
- Boys Town National Hotline: 1-800-448-3000
- The transition from the thrills of adolescence to the bills (and responsibilities) of adulthood is anything but easy. As such, this hotline is available 24/7 to provide mental health resources, as well as crisis intervention services, for both children and adults via text, email, or Internet based chat.
Though we’ve made tremendous strides to address and de-stigmatize the umbrella of mental health within our community, it’s important that we specifically address the plight of those who suffer from anxiety. Just as we single out disorders such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, it’s equally important that we not only identify the unique obstacles that anxiety presents, but that we actively pursue the means to diminish its prevalence.
As Logic has already demonstrated, awareness is frivolous without action following suit. So while I commend him for using his platform to draw attention to the anguish of anxiety, the onus now falls on the rest of us to act in the best interest of both ourselves and our communities.
Jay Connor is an entertainment writer (Black Card Revoked, AMC Network, etc.) and founder/co-host of the popular “The Extraordinary Negroes” podcast (which you should subscribe to post haste). For more on Jay, his aversion to church hugs, and his quest for world domination, hit up www.theextraordinarynegroes.