Growing up in a Caribbean Christian household my cousins and I were told prayer was the answer to everything, but it wasn’t the answer to my family’s struggles with mental health.
Throughout my childhood my mum suffered with chronic depression. She would have moments were she would be really quiet in her room and I could hear her crying, but as a child I didn’t know what to do, I felt helpless. At that age I didn’t understand how someone could just cry all the time.
It took my mum over a decade to speak to a professional. When my mum would try to talk about her depression, my nan would only have one response: go and pray. My mum knew this approach was never really going to work, because no matter how many times she prayed she still ended up feeling down.
In our church, leaders believed that mental illness was caused by evil spirits that can be demolished through prayer. I remember during one Pentecostal Church service, the priest suggested that depression is for non-believers and true Christians do not suffer with mental illnesses because they are associated with the devil’s doings.
When I began to suffer with depression, I refused to seek help at church, even though it was a place of community, where we all looked after one another. I too feared being told to pray it away. I was also afraid of being told that I was being contacted by the devil and needed deliverance, as some of my friends had been told. It’s not just an issue in the Caribbean community, Africans Unite Against Child Abuse have warned that children who have a challenging behaviour are particularly vulnerable to being branded as witches. The use of exorcisms within some churches, as a treatment for children with challenging behaviour or mental illness, deters many from coming forward as adults and seeking help.
Luckily I sought out professional help, but it is about time we stopped telling young black adults to turn to prayer as a cure for severe mental health problems and start educating our community on how to actively seek professional help.
According to the NHS black and ethnic minority patients in England are less likely to receive help with metal health problems. There is undoubtedly a stigma that surrounds the topic of mental illness within our community. This stigma deters many people from coming forward and seeking help. This idea that black people don’t suffer from mental illnesses stems from the unwritten law within our community that suggests that black people don’t do things like go to therapy. Many of us growing up in a Caribbean or African household were told not to tell outsiders our personal business. I still don’t why we were told this, maybe from fear of being judged or perceived as weak. Whatever the reason growing up we never dared question this.
I will never sit here and demean the value of prayer, because I know many people who use prayer as a way of helping them deal with their hardships. But prayer cannot replace professional help when it comes to issues of mental health.
If you are affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, please visit https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/ who provide a useful list of links of free mental health charities, groups and servicesReuse content