How Howard Alumna and Suicide Survivor T-Kea Blackman Is Normalizing The Conversation About Mental Health Within Communities of Color

It all started with a suicide attempt eight months later after being diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders, and after 10 years of struggling with suicidal thoughts, I could no longer mask my pain. Upon waking up in a psychiatric unit I knew that hiding this secret was doing more harm than good. I often wondered why I could not tell family and friends about my illness, and that’s when I realized my community’s lack of acceptance and knowledge is preventing people of color from seeking treatment.

I would say things to myself like “I cannot be mentally ill. I have a master’s degree from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree from Howard University.’ But boy was I wrong. Just like everyone else, I associated mental illness with people who talked to themselves in public and looked disoriented.

By sharing my story, I hope that it will inspire others to not give up on life even though they may be in a dark place and have no desire of coming out. I understand. After being in a depression for so long, it gets comfortable but then one day, you will get to a breaking point. A permanent solution to a temporary problem was not worth ending my life. I did not understand when I was sick, but I do now. There are resources to help you. You do not have to face anything alone.

As a result, I am launching the Fireflies Unite podcast on January 1, 2018, with a teaser being released on December 1, 2017, via iTunes and on my website. The weekly podcast will provide an in-depth conversation about mental health and illness within communities of color. The podcast will feature personal interviews of individuals living with a mental illness, mental health professionals, offer best self-care practices on how to manage mental health and provide listeners with the opportunity to engage by addressing their concerns via the journal entry segment. Mental illnesses such as major depression, bipolar generalized anxiety, eating and borderline personality disorders will be discussed.

Suicide has become the third leading cause of death among black people between the ages of 15 and 24, according to by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of negative stereotypes about mental health, blacks are less likely to receive treatment. The lasting impact of slavery, poor medical treatment examples like the Tuskegee experiment, limited access to quality healthcare, education and poverty puts blacks at a high risk of developing mental illness.

Blacks of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than those that are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Blacks are also twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia which was found in a study by the American Psychological Association.

The name was birthed through my realization of seeing what the “mental health secret/stigma” did to me as well as communities of color. Fireflies come out at night and create a beautiful light. When people battle with a mental illness or struggle emotionally, they often isolate themselves and are left in a place of darkness. By normalizing the conversation about mental health within communities of color, I am bringing light to darkness to foster healing and mental wellness.

It is my hope that people of color will use the Fireflies Unite platform to obtain the resources to manage their mental health. I want to see my community healthy despite disadvantages and racism negatively impacting their mental health.