Illustration avec Ideogram. Photo Credit: Rejy Joseph Roc

Overview:

This article delves into the complexities of mental health within the Haitian community, focusing on the cultural and religious influences that often hinder emotional expression and seeking therapy, especially among men. It highlights the deeply ingrained expectations of stoicism, which can lead to silent suffering and unacknowledged mental health issues.

Why do we feel compelled to hide our pain? This question resonates deeply within the Haitian community, where the weight of stoicism often falls more heavily on men. Recently, a male coworker shared a poignant thought after his mother passed away: “I am a black man; I don’t have the luxury to mourn the same as my sisters.” This candid admission brings to light a significant, yet often overlooked issue—the permission to express emotions in Haitian culture, particularly for men.

Reflecting on my undergraduate thesis about depression within the Black community, I recalled a quote I deeply resonated with: “Depression is not a sign of weakness. It means you've been strong for far too long.” This captures the essence of what many Haitian men, and indeed the Haitian community at large, endure - a silent, stoic battle against mental strain.

The Influence of Religion and Spiritual Belief on Mental Health Treatment

A heated brunch conversation in Miami last week with two of my childhood friends highlighted another layer of complexity when it comes to accepting therapy. During our discussion about a session I had with my therapist, one friend insisted she didn't need therapy because she had Christ. The belief that spiritual guidance alone is sufficient is widespread and often inhibits seeking professional mental health support.

Navigating the intersection of cultural beliefs, religious influences, and the necessity for mental health support, we delve into the heart of this multifaceted topic. This article isn’t about imposing my beliefs but rather encouraging a broader perspective that might be overlooked. The goal is to broaden our understanding and acceptance of therapy as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, traditional values. Seeking therapy doesn't mean you're abandoning your spiritual beliefs; it means you're adding another layer of support for your overall well-being.

In conversations with some male friends, a recurring concern came up: “Haitian people don’t have the luxury to see therapists. For many in Haiti, survival is the primary focus. Why waste money on therapy when we have God?” This perspective, while understandable, overlooks the benefits of mental health support.

So, What Exactly is Therapy?

Therapy can assist individuals in various ways, such as understanding the mind, developing healthier habits, releasing emotions, enhancing relationships, and boosting self-confidence.

I’ve noticed that in the Haitian community growing up and even here in the US in some Black communities, particularly among Haitian men, cultural expectations often demand a stoic approach to pain and suffering. Phrases like “Man up,” “Fight it off,” or “Be tough” are commonly uttered to boys experiencing sadness, suggesting that strength means living without mental health struggles. However, this mentality overlooks the silent, often invisible pain that many endure—pain that has no visible symptoms, no runny nose, no fever or rash, no fractures or sprains, just a head full of darkness and an inexplicable longing.

The Journey to Finding the Right Therapist

Someone once advised me, “Finding a good therapist who matches you is like going on many dates until you find the one.” This analogy highlights the importance of persistence and patience in the search for a suitable therapist.

Some families hold the belief that African Americans shouldn't speak openly about mental health issues, viewing it as a betrayal of cultural norms. This perspective suggests that an African American discussing depression with a doctor is exposing the family's vulnerabilities. However, my Haitian mother often says, “Maladi kache pa gen remèd,” which translates roughly to “A hidden sickness does not have a cure!” If this is true for physical ailments, why should it be any different for mental health?

Breaking the Silence

The way many of us were raised contributes to this silence. We were taught, “What goes on in your house, you keep it to yourself and your family; keep your secrets your family secrets.” This mindset can be particularly damaging when it comes to mental health. My grandmother often attributed depression to not eating well, a common misconception. Many still believe that depression is a “white people” disease, or that our community is not well-informed enough to relate to or address mental health issues effectively. Another prevalent belief is equating mental health issues with being “crazy,” which adds stigma and hinders open discussion.

Even those who acknowledge mental health issues often remain skeptical about the effectiveness of treatment for Haitians or Black people more broadly. Such skepticism, while understandable given the historical contexts of medicine experimenting on people of color, nonetheless creates additional barriers to seeking help.

The Importance of Therapy

In a rapidly evolving world, we must adapt. Change starts from within. How can we expect to be better, to evolve, if we cling to old habits and avoid stepping out of our comfort zones? Therapy can be a crucial part of that transformation.

If there's one thing, I want you to take away from this, let it be this: change starts with us and within us. To live differently, we must first acknowledge when something is wrong. Only then can we take the necessary steps to improve our mental well-being. As Haitians, whether living in Haiti or the diaspora, we are not exempt from the modern world's demands. Addressing our mental health is part of that adaptation.

We are a resilient nation. Our history is filled with struggles and triumphs, and resilience has been a defining trait. But resilience doesn't mean ignoring our mental health. In a world that is constantly changing, if we don't address our mental health, we risk being left behind. For those still in Haiti, surviving daily adversities is a given. For those who have left, the journey and the loss are constant companions. Our hearts and minds are often cluttered with complex emotions, worries about safety, and the desire for a better future for our motherland.

So, I leave you with those questions: How do we want to clear the clutter in our minds? How can we think differently, understand what we feel, and discern what needs to change? To truly evolve, we must break the silence surrounding mental health. By doing so, we embark on a path toward healing and growth—both individually and collectively.

Key Takeaways:

1. Acknowledge the Reality: Mental health issues are real and affect everyone, regardless of cultural background.

2. Break the Stigma: Seeking mental health support is not a sign of weakness but a step toward strength and healing.

3. Complement, Don’t Replace: Professional therapy can work alongside spiritual beliefs, not against them.

4. Be Open: We must open up conversations within our communities to better understand and address mental health.

5. Seek the Right Fit: Finding the right therapist may take time, but it is crucial to be persistent.

Ruth Dupiche is a Haitian-American writer and poet, born and raised in Haiti, with a deep passion for exploring and celebrating the complexities of Haitian identity and culture. Growing up in Haiti and earning a degree in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution from Columbia University. Ruth brings a unique perspective to her writing, challenging taboos and sparking meaningful conversations. With a focus on topics such as sex, education, and identity.

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4 Comments

  1. I truly enjoy reading your articles, they are so informative and well written. Keep up the good work. You are definitely making a difference in the Haitian community.

    1. Hi Nadege,
      Wow, thank you so much for your kind words. It means a lot to me to know that my articles are making a positive impact in the Haitian community. I am passionate about sharing information and empowering others, so your feedback is truly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my articles. It encourages me to continue writing and reaching more people. Wishing you all the best!

  2. I am glad that someone finally spoke regarding mental health issue. Since growing up, I know mental health and other subjects are like taboos in Haiti and in black communities as well. I just hope this article opens some eyes and minds of our people. Having mental health issues and recognize it is not a sign of weakness; it is the first step towards healing ❤️‍🩹.
    Keep up with it, Ruth. You are doing a great 😊 job.

    1. Hi Kathia,
      Thank you for your kind words and continued support. It means a lot to me that my article resonated with you and that it has sparked some important discussions. Mental health is a sensitive topic, but it's important to break the stigma and encourage open conversations about it in our communities. It's time for us to prioritize our mental well-being and support each other in our journey towards healing. Thank you for being a part of this conversation. Let's continue to educate and raise awareness on this important topic.

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