Health

I'm Depressed, But Is That Actually a Problem?

Maybe my depression isn't the problem. Maybe it's a collective symptom of being a black person in Australia.

by Nayuka Gorrie
23 November 2016, 12:00am

Images by Ashley Goodall

This article discusses anxiety and depression.

It's 8:30 AM, my alarm has gone off for the fifth time and I can't get out of bed. It's 11:30 AM and I get an email saying I've been offered a dream gig and I can barely muster a smile. It's not until 4:30 PM, after sobbing in bed alone, that I realise I'm depressed. Again.

I was always an anxious kid. I'm the oldest, which meant looking after my brother and sister when Mum and Dad were at work. It meant calling the police when my uncles got drunk and fought out the front of the house. In year nine, I got so anxious I couldn't go to school for about a month. The same thing happened again at the end of year 10. Anxiety and depression caused me to defer two different degrees, and quit at least three jobs. I've cancelled more Tinder dates than I can remember.

I think now being the oldest and the responsibility that has sometimes come with it means my fight or flight mode is almost always on. My anxiety comes in peaks and troughs, but it's there in most social situations: Why did I say that? No one got that joke. Why do you talk so much? You are such a fucking idiot.

Sometimes I look around at all these carefree and smiling people and wonder how the fuck they do it. They can't all be that happy. And statistics tell me they aren't. On average one-in-four Australians will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. One-in-five will experience depression at some point in their lifetimes.

But for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, the rate who'll experience psychological distress it's nearly 31 percent. It's no surprise then that most blackfullas I know are facing some sort of mental health issue. Research shows us that mental health is greatly affected by your environment. But genetic factors also play a part, and there's no doubt that colonisation has fucked us up.

I wonder what trauma did my great great great grandfather pass down, as a young boy who survived a massacre? What trauma did my great grandmother pass down being stolen from her country and family? What trauma did my mother pass down?

Sometimes I worry about what trauma I am going to pass on, if I decide to have children. What happens when those genes, and all that trauma, is coupled with experiencing family violence, white supremacy, misogyny, and queerphobia? It's no wonder we're all a bit fucked up.

Like many other communities, Aboriginal people don't really talk about mental health. It feels like we are too busy trying to survive. Too busy putting food on the table, too busy looking after the kids, too busy working, mourning, just trying to keep our heads above water to consider our own well being. We are all too busy trying to maintain, when what we really need is healing.

We're told success looks like going to school and uni, getting a good job and a mortgage. We aren't warned that we will mourn our mother tongue, that many of us will perpetually feel uncomfortable being the only black person in white spaces. No one tells you how exhausted you will feel all the time.

Getting help can feel like a luxury. I'm privileged enough to have an income, food on the table, a roof over my head, and no dependents. I have the time and support to go get help. Not everyone has this. It's a cruel irony that sometimes you to have to be well enough to get help.

Living in a settler colonial society and getting therapy from the settler is a strange experience too. In therapy as a black woman, I'm relying on my white therapist not being fragile when I rage about colonisation, racism, and microaggressions.

Then there's the fact that white Australian culture values individualism. It often feels like the western therapy focuses on you—the individual. In my culture, we centre the collective. This can make therapy challenging. It's rare to just happen on a therapist who understands these race and power dynamics.

Usually, they just try to help you. They try to fix you. Your depression is a problem that must be solved.

So, I'm depressed, but is that actually a problem? Is my depression a problem to fix? I'm not saying it doesn't suck. I'm not saying it's a fun time. But it's not a surprise that a group of people who weren't meant to survive genocide occasionally struggle to navigate their black bodies and minds on stolen land.

The moments I feel most happy and well are when I am surrounded by black people and feel self-determined. Even if, structurally, that isn't really the case. The older I get the more I think that maybe my depression is a totally normal response to being a blackfulla in this country.

Maybe my depression isn't the problem. Maybe it's a collective symptom, one that should be expected with this country's history. Maybe it's the price we pay for colonisation and assimilation.

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