An amazing woman living with mental illness, mental health advocate, podcaster
Didi Hairston joins me on Navigating Cancer TOGETHER to talk about a topic closely related to cancer - mental health. She is the Diva with Depression, and she sheds light on what it is like being a Black woman living with a mental illness.
Mental Illness Strains Relationships
Mental health is a topic that is often overlooked or stigmatized in our society, but it is just as important as physical health. It affects every aspect of our lives, from our relationships and work performance to our overall well-being. This is especially true for individuals facing cancer, as the emotional toll of the disease can be overwhelming.
Mental illnesses can have devastating effects on individuals and their families, and the stigma surrounding mental health often prevents people from seeking help. Didi's struggles with depression have had a major impact on her relationships with family and friends.
Didi was initially misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety before finally receiving a proper diagnosis in 2018. This diagnosis came after she was hospitalized, which was triggered by the grief of losing her best friend and "sister" to cancer. The combination of depression, grief, and empty nest syndrome took a toll on her mental health, leading to her hospitalization. She has tried various medications and treatments, only to find temporary relief or no improvement at all.
Didi's family and friends struggled to understand and accept her diagnosis. Some family members stopped speaking to her, while friends distanced themselves because they couldn't handle what she was going through.
The strain on relationships arises from the difficulty in communication and the unpredictable nature of mental illness. Didi explains that living with a mental illness can cause individuals to isolate themselves and withdraw from social interactions. This behavior can be challenging for others to comprehend and respond to appropriately.
However, amidst the challenges, Didi acknowledges the importance of having a supportive network. She mentions her brothers, who have been there for her throughout her journey. They have learned to accept and understand her struggles, even though they may not always know how to help. Didi also mentions a few good friends who have accepted her as she is, providing her with the support she needs.
There is a need for greater awareness and understanding of mental illness in society. Didi's experience reflects the stigma and lack of knowledge that still exists surrounding mental health, particularly in Black and Brown communities. The negative reactions and judgment she received from some family members and friends demonstrate the urgent need for education and empathy.
"I want to break the stigma of having to even have to wear that mask." - Didi Hairston
Break the Stigma of Depression
Didi discusses the concept of wearing a "mask" to hide one's depression from the outside world. Didi talks about how she presents herself as a different person when she leaves the house or speaks at conferences, but her friends and family have no idea what goes on when she takes off the mask. Her goal is to break the stigma associated with wearing this mask and the shame that comes with it.
Take Care of Yourself Always
Didi watched her friend and sister go through cancer and it had a big impact on her mental health. She emphasizes the need to prioritize self-care in order to effectively support and care for others. As her friend's illness progressed, Didi and her family tried to stay positive and busy, but it became increasingly difficult as the end neared.
It is crucial to acknowledge and express our emotions during difficult times. As Didi suggests, we must allow ourselves to cry and break down if needed. It is a natural response to witnessing a loved one's struggle with illness. By acknowledging and working through these emotions, we can better support our loved ones and take care of our own mental well-being.
The grief of losing her friend and sister is still there and it never truly ends when a loved one is gone forever, and it is important to acknowledge and work through these emotions.
My very important conversation with Didi serves as a reminder and a call to action to prioritize mental health and ensure that everyone has access to the support they need, particularly in Black and Brown communities. It emphasizes the need for early intervention, ongoing treatment, and breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness.
It is crucial that society fosters an environment of acceptance and understanding for individuals living with mental illness, allowing them to maintain healthy relationships and receive the support they deserve.
I am grateful to Didi for sharing her wisdom and experiences, and I believe this episode will resonate with everyone facing cancer, caregivers, and those seeking to understand the intersection of mental health and cancer.
Read the transcript here.
Listen to my guest appearance on Breaking the Mask of Depression.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) - https://www.nami.org/Home
NAMI Family-to-Family - https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/Mental-Health-Education/NAMI-Family-to-Family
Mental Health America (MHA) - https://mhanational.org/
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