Mental Health in Caribbean Culture | Anika J. McDonald

My name is Anika “Starr” McDonald and I have been navigating my own PTSD and depressive symptoms for as long as I can conceptualize. I am an advocate for mental health, especially for minority children. I am a clinical social worker who has been working in the field for five years.

I was born in Jamaica and I have Trini roots. Being in the Caribbean in mental health can be difficult at times because of the lack of awareness and support in my community, however, I do see more persons being open to learning and taking the necessary steps to change the negative stigma and lack of concern. In my family, mental illness was never discussed and so many suffered in silence. I was always the child who danced to the beat of her own drum and that made it even more difficult to explain that I was suffering inside my own head, I didn’t want to be seen as even more strange than I was. My extended family are still finding their own way and though I am being more transparent and open about mental health, I am always aware that it may be difficult for some of them to process as they may have been suffering in silence. If they admit that it exists then it becomes “real”. So I have been gentle in my approach and just using the education I have acquired to slowly take a stance and to reshape how we as a community view mental health.

  •  How are /were you affected by mental health?  

 When I was around 8 years old I watched the news and heard the 100 phone calls informing us that my youngest uncle, at 18 died by committing suicide. I was confused, angry and hurt yet also inspired. I wasn’t completely sure why I got an urge to try harming myself but I began fantasizing about death and the different ways I could escape this life. It was my little dark secret that I was never sure to talk about because there was never an open dialogue about our thoughts in that way and it was deemed as evil and I didn’t want to be seen as that. When my sister got diagnosed with depression, I knew for sure that I was also suffering and it was a sense of relief that it was actually happening and it was a valid reason for me to feel how I had been feeling for years. I went on to study psychology then pursued a master’s degree in social work to help the mental health of children just like me who were suffering in silence. After working with these many different families, I began to experience vicarious trauma which affects many therapists in the field, it broke down my mental health even more. I was at the point where I was begging the Universe to kill me, I would fantasize about cars driving me off cliffs and I was sabotaging all my relationships. My motivation for work was very low and I no longer did anything I was interested in. Living with poor mental health for me was not really life, rather I was alive but inside felt like a corpse, disconnected from all that was moving.  As if I were screaming underwater and nobody could hear me. I was exhausted and not sure where I would find the strength to keep loving, keep moving, keep growing. Yet I did. It really took transparency and living more in my truth yet shedding a lot of my cognitive distortions for me to lift up out of that sinking blackhole. It takes effort and energy, I didn’t think i had, but I did it. 

  • How are you being supported?

 It was a slow road for me to admit my own mental health issues, I felt like it was too much to share with anyone and have contained it in for so long. However, there comes a time when it’s too difficult to hide and my added pressures in life had me spiraling out of control, I leaned on my mummy. My mother had transformed from a short-tempered figure to an open-minded space that I could go and share my darkest thoughts. My sisters and closest friends are here for me as I explore the different ways my mental health impacts different aspects of my life and social media, though it can be harmful, there have been so many safe spaces, such as blogs and healing accounts, that as helped me on this journey. Of course, my therapist/transformation coach has truly supported me in navigating through the pains and traumas that have affected me. I found a safe space in my retreat sisters to be able to practice self-care from a true cultural space without disapproval but rather in a safe vulnerable space. And for the lovers that I have enjoyed, was an example of how life can be gentle and soft at times. So keep going. 
Even strangers have helped in their own way, the more I was open to being supported was the more support came in all types of ways. The biggest support is myself, getting up and actually pushing through helps me to connect with those that can help. 

  • Do you feel that schools have the tools to support the youths suffering from mental health illnesses? 

As a person that works directly with youth in the mental health field and that has been partnered with several schools in the past few years, I will say that some schools do and others need more support. This is a direct issue of the disparities in socioeconomic differences. Schools in areas with lower socioeconomic statuses struggle with support in general and have fewer tools. In the county I live in, some schools are awarded a clinical professional through a grant while others have to outsource to mental health companies to help. If I could implement mental health in schools, I would make it a part of the curriculum just like PE, in which children learn about mental health and practice coping techniques during lessons. 

Ways to connect
I share about my journey on rebel love.co and I post my self-care practices on IG: NeekieLove for inspiration. Follow me on Twitter: forever rebel, where I am my most open.