Dear Black Parents of Depressed Children,
Depression is not some made up disease that “only White people get.” It’s a disorder that causes overwhelming sadness and loss of interest in life. In our community, we pride ourselves on raising strong, independent, beautiful children. They are to never look for handouts from anyone (although that “welfare Queen” stereotype is persistent as ever) and must work hard to earn all of what they have. After a short while, it becomes a fight to survive in a world that only sees money and color, a world we feel we have no place. You do not allow your child to cry when they feel pain, they are ungrateful for forgetting to do chores and, most importantly, you brought them into this world and you can just as easily take them out.
Yet in spite of these words, you still give them unconditional love and conditional support. You love them simply because they are a reflection of you. Every time you see them, it’s always those easy days of childhood and hours of laughter. You’re their hero, you can do no wrong in their eyes, and for that reason they love you back. Yet one day something changes. They sleep more and talk less. They get a little slick at the mouth, and suddenly your perfect angel is gone. They complain about feelings of depression, and red flags are immediately raised. How dare this child feel anything but joy? After all, they live rent free, food is always cooked, they have clothes to wear, and entertainment systems. If anyone should have feelings of inadequacy it should be you. You pay the bills, cook and clean, and work yourself to the bone without so much as a simple “thank you.” You never complain because you don’t have time to do so. Your child has committed the first act of rebellion against your superior parenting skills: showing weakness. The only thing to cure this is church. Good ole fashioned church.
The church has always been the safe haven for those in any trouble in the community. All folks need is a little Jesus to get them right and they will be magically cured of their afflictions. But your child says this is just something the preacher can’t fix. The nerve. They say they wish to speak with you as adults would. You tell them to remain in a child’s place. Who made them so high and mighty that they could speak like an adult? The disconnect slowly begins to grow between you two.
The strong child you once had is now nothing, but a shell of their former self. You talk with your friends and tell them how you have no clue what happened to your angel. You jokingly refer to your child as a burden, and say how you cannot wait until they leave your house for good. The only option you seem to have left is to belittle your child so that everyone knows the consequences of weakness in the community. Your child is never out of earshot though and they know every insult. They contain their feelings to keep it all inside and make attempts to make you happy, sacrificing themselves in the process.
It’s not until you find the note they left you on the bed, that you realize your mistakes as a parent. You reminisce as to how smart and talented they were and how they left you too soon. You ask how you could have prevented this and you always knew how. You could have taken your child’s concerns seriously, but the reality of it was, you were scared, and felt that your parenting skills were lacking. If you couldn’t make your child happy, did that automatically make you a failure as a parent?
To the parents of sad black children, I beg of you to listen. Just let your child vent, and to release their pain. Understand that depression is real and get them the professional care they need to cope with such a strain. Do not say anything to hurt them and never tell them they’re worthless. Tell them you love them. Tell them how smart they are. Tell them that you will work through this together. Please just be there.
With Love and Respect,
Linque Martin, 19