By: Erin Arney
Cheers to a new year! With all the glitz, glam, and the anticipation of a midnight kiss comes the most exciting part of all; hope. A new year often brings with it the possibility for change. Looking back 2018 had its ups and downs, but 2019 will be the year that I start taking advice from Lil Duval and live my best life. So I’ve challenged myself to determine what that means for me. Is it a feeling? Is it a set of goals? Taking clues from my family, friends, and a few notable celebrities “living my best life” means taking care of myself daily.
The #selfcare movement has started to sweep the nation as stars like Kofi Sirobe, Ebonee Davis, Taraji P. Henson, Jenifer Lewis and Charlamagne the god are creating documentaries, speaking on global platforms, starting foundations and sharing personal stories on their struggles with mental health and the value of therapy. As a community we are waking up to the importance of mental illness and holding one another accountable for our wellbeing on a physical, mental, spiritual and emotional level. Advocacy for mental health is through the roof and the Black community is letting it be known that we stand for mental health.
Having been a beneficiary of mental healthcare for many years, I couldn’t be more excited about this shift. Not only has it increased the demand for mental health providers (the affordable care act definitely played a part in this as well), but it also created space for a broader conversation about wellness in general. With this conversation, what we as Black people are finding is that like most systems in western society, the $11 billion (Harvard business review) self-care industry wasn’t created for us. Just last month Vice news published an article: "The Young and the Uncared For" revealing how the growing self care industry speaks volumes about the flaws in mental healthcare. Using examples of everyday people, author Shayla Love points out the failure of conventional healthcare to address the mental health crisis among young people today. Especially young people of color.
Don’t get me wrong, I'm a huge advocate of self-care in its many forms, but I want to be clear about its place in managing anxiety (or any disease for that matter). Self-care is not the magic pill for mental health. It is only a small part in a much larger system. Self-care is meant to be a way for one to check in with their wants and needs and make plans to have them met. What the current self-care narrative is only beginning to make clear is that once those needs are identified meeting them may require professional help. Que the current healthcare model, a nightmare to navigate for most that sometimes results in additional trauma, mistrust and isolation.
The message that many young people are given in our capitalist society has painted an unrealistic picture of the self-sufficient chick who does her facemask, gets a massage, pulls herself up by her puritan bootstraps, and keeps it pushin. In reality, the concept of self-care developed from social activists of the civil rights era recognizing that if they didn’t take care of themselves, they wouldn’t be able to take care of the communities they’d dedicated their lives to. Let me say that again, self care and mental health have much more to do with creating a solid support system than with creating a new to do list. This is nothing new for people of color, who tend to have roots in collectivist societies that stress the importance of a universal consciousness. In her book, The Awakened Woman, Zimbabwean activist Dr. Tererai Trent describes the universal desire “to be seen, to be heard, and even to hear yourself more clearly.” Through the ritual of self-care we develop a sense of purpose, direction, and connection with the divine. Getting to know ourselves better will also help us among the land of the living, but its clear that no matter how much work we do on our own, our support systems should be fortified with healthcare professionals.
Due to the shortage of primary care physicians and therapists (especially those of color) to address the growing mental health needs of the public, the underlying theme in many a self-care messages is that you can and should handle your anxiety without the help of a doctor or counselor. This leads to the all too familiar pattern in hip-hop culture of sippin lean and blowin trees to get by. I think @realcoleworld said it best when he encouraged that we “meditate not medicate”. Treating the symptoms through substance abuse is a temporary fix that can cause the underlying problem to grow in the process. This is especially true with anxiety and depression, which can sometimes be symptoms of an underlying illness such as a thyroid disorder or cardiovascular disease. Black people are at higher risk of acquiring cardiovascular disease in their lifetime. As it turns out, the American Heart Association, reported last month that African-Americans have the highest rates of hypertension in the world (the world Craig!). This is due to a number of factors, including diet, lifestyle socioeconomic status, and racial trauma. In fact, according to the US department of health and human services African-Americans experience the effects of both implicit and explicit racism on a daily basis. Leading to a 10% increase in psychological distress! Chronic stress has been shown to lower immune function leading to disease and ultimately a shorter life span. As a future Naturopathic doctor I am taught to take the preventative approach to solving this issue. Encouraging patients to create a healthy foundation that caters to their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. While taking into account that the effects of racism are out of the patient’s control, there are steps we can take together to support resilience and improve mental health in individuals of color. It takes a village and its definitely worth your time to listen to your body and get symptoms checked out by a healthcare professional. Living your best life requires cutting off the bad vibes and getting your mind right all 2019!
Below are a few options to help you find your tribe and thrive:
For help with self-care:
"Beyond the label: 10 Steps to Improve Your Mental Health with Naturopathic Medicine" by Dr. Christina Bjorndal
"The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions" by Dr. Christopher K. Gremer
"A Path to Healing: A Guide to Wellness for Body, Mind and Soul" by Dr. Andrea D. Sullivan
For help with navigating the healthcare system:
What to ask your doctor (https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/when-you-visit-your-doctor)
Finding a Naturopathic Doctor (https://www.naturopathic.org/AF_MemberDirectory.asp?version=2)
About the Author:
Erin N. Arney is a fourth year medical student at Bastyr University from Toledo, Ohio. As a childhood cancer survivor, Erin is passionate about patient empowerment. Her approach involves combining naturopathic medicine with behavioral science to treat the whole person.
Erin’s interests include mental health, adolescent medicine and addiction medicine. She hopes to utilize her platform as a doctor in training to promote health equity, provide community education regarding preventative medicine and wellness, and foster authentic
patient-physician relationships. You can follow Erin’s journey by connecting with her on
Instagram @_honesttea or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.