(By Leah Faye Cooper for Refinery29)
Editor’s note: The following article includes discussion about suicide. Some details may be triggering. Please proceed thoughtfully.
Diagnosed with clinical depression as a teen, Lauren Carson has spent much of her life navigating a society that stigmatizes the types of mental health obstacles she’s struggled with. Those stigmas are especially prevalent in the Black community, where dialogue surrounding mental health has historically been discouraged. In 2012, Carson founded Black Girls Smile, an organization aimed at helping young Black women receive the support and resources they need to lead mentally healthy lives. In partnership with Target, Carson shares her own mental health journey, and how Black Girls Smile is changing the narrative around mental health and helping women prioritize their mental well-being. This story was told to Leah Faye Cooper and was edited for length and clarity.
Growing up, we moved around a lot — all up and down the East Coast — for my dad’s career (he was an orthopedic surgeon). My parents did a great job at making sure my siblings and I made friends and were involved in activities whenever and wherever we lived. I look back on it now with gratitude, because it’s uncommon to experience so many different places, people, and cultures — and at such a young age, too. But I also think it negatively contributed to my mental health.
When we moved from Atlanta to New Orleans, I was just entering middle school, and it was a culture shock. Plenty of people travel to the city for Mardi Gras, but outside of the French Quarter, there was a huge racial disparity. As one of only a few Black kids at my school, I didn’t have an outlet to express what I was seeing and experiencing. Add to that the hormonal changes pre-teens endure, and I felt helpless and hopeless — my first symptoms of depression. I began to lash out at my parents, and my relationships with friends and family became tumultuous. But I was still doing well in school and playing basketball, which made it harder for the adults in my life to realize something was wrong.
Things got worse my freshman year of high school. I had always been happy, boisterous, and talkative, but there were periods during which I wouldn’t talk at all for several days — I just felt really sad and dejected. Conversely, when my parents would ask me to do something, my reactions were over-the-top and explosive. While that can be written off as typical adolescent behavior, it wasn’t typical for me. It came to a head when I was kicked out of the house for going out with friends when I wasn’t supposed to. When I refused to come home a few days later, my parents called the police and my dad presented me with an ultimatum: Go with the police (in other words, go to juvenile detention) or see a therapist. I’m not sure why my father threatened to send me to a detention center (we’ve never truly talked about that day — possibly because it was too painful), but I think he felt like there was a need for more drastic measures to resolve the situation. I ended up choosing therapy, and thankfully, my parents found an amazing Black female therapist who I was able to connect with right off the bat.
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