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‘We don’t talk about depression or anxiety in the black community’ - Victoria Sanusi on letting go of ‘strong black women’ stereotypes

The government needs to prioritise mental health education in all schools.

4 days ago

I was 16 years old when I realised I had depression. I had just started college, it was a brand new experience and I really didn’t transition well or fit in. I constantly felt so sad and down all the time, crying in the library, in the toilet and when I got home. I knew something was wrong but I had no idea what to do about it.

It wasn’t until I was 22 that I took action and sought advice. I went to the doctor after my first panic attack and they told me I was suffering from anxiety and prescribed me Citalopram which I didn’t actually take until six months later - I was terrified to go on medication but it’s really helped me. In fact, I’d say it changed my life and helped me cope with day to day life.

The lack of information for mental health is shocking. When I think back to when I was 16, I had no idea I could talk to the doctor about something like this. We don’t talk about depression or anxiety in the black community, although there has been a massive shift over the years. I still think it’s seen as taboo and something people just don’t seek help for or just deal with in private. With stereotypes like the 'strong black women' I know a lot of people don’t feel open to share their struggles and just soldier on but it’s truly exhausting and black people should be allowed to feel weak and sad without any judgement.

From speaking to a therapist, I think my depression and anxiety developed from past trauma. I often feel anxious when I’m in positions of uncertainty and depression often just glooms over me like a cloud, some days are great and some feel like it’s dragging. However, there’s a noticeable difference when I go under a depressive episode as I’m not able to get out of bed or go to work, not wanting to reply to my friends because I feel like a burden.

I’m currently on Sertraline which really helps me go about my day to day life. I had to stop therapy when I went freelance as it’s quite expensive, but it was incredibly useful and helped me work through my past traumas and current dilemmas.

Last year I started a podcast, Black Gals Livin, with my friend Jasmine Braithwaite where I talk about my mental health issues and we have a lot of listeners, especially black women, who say they feel less alone by hearing me talk about it. I sometimes wish I had something like this when I was younger but I’m just happy I’m making a small change and creating less of a taboo around mental health.

I think the government needs to prioritise mental health education in schools with workshops on what signs to look for when you are feeling low for no reason and how to help a friend who is depressed. I know this is another workload for teachers but it would really help so many children.