• Ciara Kelly

Black Mental Health in Media: Grown-ish

It was about time the mainstream media began to talk about mental health for people of color. Grown-ish, the spin-off of Black-ish, starring Yara Shahidi as Zoey, the Johnson family’s eldest daughter, follows her as she ventures into her university years at Cal-U. On July 24th, they aired “Only Human” bringing the issues surrounding mental health in young black communities into the spotlight, a topic rarely discussed in mainstream media. The episode guest-starred Jordyn Woods, Kylie Jenner’s former best friend, and she played a critical role in starting the powerful conversation around mental health in their community.

The episode begins with a suicide-scare in Hawkins Hall, the predominately black residents hall, which sparks Aaron’s, the RA played by Trevor Jackson, realization that he needs to address mental health in a more serious setting with his residents. However, this is no easy task with young adults. A friend weighed in with his observation that it seems as if some people discuss mental health challenges to fit in these days, with many rappers including lyrics in their songs relating to suicidal ideation, depression, substance abuse, and more.

It may be true that these rappers have addressed real issues in the world of mental health and their communities, but that by no means has made it cool, it has instead made mental illness real and normalized to the pop culture audience. Rappers like Notorious B.I.G with “Suicidal Thoughts”, Kanye West with “Yikes”, Lil Wayne with “Mad”, Kid Cudi with “The Prayer”, and many others from Kendrick Lamar to Logic have opened up about their own struggles, finding an important and impactful platform to share how they deal with depression, cope with anxiety, and combat bipolar disorder.

Back to Grown-ish, Aaron, finally found a chance to sit down with his residents to give them a safe space to open up about how they are feeling in regards to recent events and just in general their mental wellness, he called it “Black Minds Matter”. Although not a therapist, he hoped to provide mental health check-ins to his residents at such vulnerable stages in their lives. As in most cases, whether in face-to-face therapy, online therapy, or just conversations on how to deal with mental health and mental illnesses, it was tough to break down the barriers in the students that had them holding their struggles inside.

At first, the only person to reach out and speak up is the only non-black member of the group, speaking to the suppression of mental health in black culture. The RA continues and asks his residents if they’ve felt despondent, anxious, or depersonalized. Eventually, Jordyn Woods character, Dee, speaks up after getting a better understanding of what Aaron meant after he compares it to Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness.” This comparison allowed for many other students to relate to the feelings Aaron was referring to: sadness, disconnected, or isolated. They go on to discuss how difficult it can be in college, dealing with academic pressures, while being away from family, and how it can lead to being in a really dark place. Sometimes it led the students to circumstances so bad that they didn’t have a desire to get out of bed, a sign of depression.

Jordyn Woods character continues to discuss her experiences, and how she did attempt to reach out to a therapist at the counseling center, but described it as a joke. After a two week wait for a fifteen minute conversation, she was presented with an elderly white psychologist, who kept telling her she looked like some actress” and did not address her mental health concerns. An increasingly critical crisis on college campuses nationwide is requiring students to have access to mental health resources, however, it is not happening. Schools like UCLA and Northwestern have a similar wait of over two weeks, and increasing wait times as pressures become higher around midterms and finals. The issue surrounding cultural competence in college counselors is also hurting the growth in many students. From having only one LGBTQ+ counselor, to little to no black, Latinx, or Asian counselors for students to reach out to for a safe space for them to open up about the cultural challenges in coming to such a diverse (or not so diverse place) as a college campus.

Obviously colleges need to address the growing need for services, but other challenges stand in the way. Aaron, the RA, goes to speak with the Dean at Cal-U about this issue.

He preaches to him about the issues his residents brought up in finding mental health services on campus, but was faced with an all to common answer, they just “don’t have the money in the budget” to provide a black therapist at the university.

Grown-ish and a few other popular culture outlets have begun to discuss such important issues, bringing some of the gaps in mental health and therapy to the lime-light. After this episode aired Jordyn Woods told People that she was grateful to be a part of this episode as it was about mental health and that “was even more important to me to discuss.” Similarly, Trevor Jackson, has used Twitter to continue his mental health advocacy, he retweeted the Black Mental Health Alliance, quoting his character saying “We are the ones struggling with the normal stresses of college, going to a predominantly white school and having to deal with the pressures of being Black in America.”

This type of interaction is so important, using a platform to discuss and educate people about mental health and resources (or the lack thereof), will help create change. Being one of the first American sitcom episodes to discuss black mental health specifically, the show has brought hope to an American public looking for better ways to cope with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and more as a young minority.

AYANA and College Communities

These issues are not just fiction, and they are all too real to be ignored any longer. Hundreds of universities all over the nation face the lack of representation in their Counseling and Psychology Centers. Due to this disparity AYANA hopes to provide students with an affordable alternative to the school services with telehealth for minority groups. Here they can contact their therapist at any hour, without the two week wait, while destigmatizing the idea of therapy and bringing some of the most culturally competent therapists accessible in the touch of a button. AYANA knows that mental health and mental illnesses cannot be waitlisted, the time is now.

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