Mamas, Memories and Black Mental Health

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Sayoko Duhe Watson

Mother’s Day and Memorial Day are celebrated in May, which can trigger many emotions: we must remember we don’t have to take them on without help. It is significant then, that this month is also Mental Health Awareness Month.

While western ideals deem emotions and feelings as irrational distractions that can be resolved with logic, there is no duality within an African way of knowing. In her formative book, “Yurugu: An African Critique of European Thought,” Dr. Marimba Ani, an associate member of the ABPsi, reminds us that the rational and emotional are together. The “thinking” parts are in accord with the “feeling” parts of ourselves. We are a spiritual people and our involvement with the universe builds our inner knowing.

As a child, when my emotional vibrations grew too strong, “Mama and DEMM”, the women and elders of the family, were quick to issue a prescription. In Black Psychology, Dr. Baba Wade Nobles has helped us to see that DEMM was not a mispronunciation of “them” but a deep recognition of our sacredness. DEMM stood for “Divine Energy Made Manifest.”

I remember Mama and DEMM would say, “Go outside and sit down somewhere!” They knew that being in harmony with Mama Nature (the outside) would re-stabilize my disharmonizing vibrations.

Connecting with Mama Earth by walking barefoot is known to have even more healing benefits. In “The Healing Wisdom of Africa,” spiritual practitioner Patrice Malidoma Some reminds us, “Every tree, plant, hill, mountain, rock, and each thing that was here before us emanates or vibrates at a subtle energy that has healing power. If something in us must change, spending time in nature provides a good beginning.”

Although I did not realize it at the time, Mama and DEMM’s intention was to ensure I came back feeling better than before I left. I echo these same sentiments to my seeds: children and have rekindled a relationship this year with the outdoors that is renewing and revitalizing.

I bought a few plants, no longer sleep near my phone, and expanded my “social network” to include the birds, bees, and others critters I used to shoo away. I even went camping for the first time! Lesson learned: the wisdom of our Mamas and the reason for Mother’s Day being everyday.

Nowadays, compulsively tied to our phones and social media, we suffer from FOMO, “Fear of Missing Out, which is correlated with anxiety and feelings of worthlessness on top of the usual health risks associated with urban  living: stress, diabetes, inactivity.

According to the Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely than the general population to experience mental health problems, such as Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Rates of suicide have also increased by 25% in the Black community, and are most troubling in our youth and young adults. While being in nature can provide respite, seeking out the help of a professional mental health practitioner may be necessary.

Western (white) psychology is just now coming to appreciate the ancient African understanding that one past president of the ABPsi, Dr. Mwata Kevin Washington, called Ntu, African Deep Thought that recognized the common spirit in humans, nature and the Divine.

However, Black psychology and DEMM Black psychologists have known for a long time that simply walking in nature or bathing in the sacred salty waters of Mama Yẹmọnja has been associated with preventing disorders (depression, etc.) by being in accord:alignment:harmony with the rhythms of nature and limiting the intake of negative thoughts spiraling through one’s mind.

Our “spiritness” is grounded in life-energy within, around and throughout us on multidimensional levels.

In a time overwhelmed with negativity and consumed by technological addiction, the need to unplug and venture into the universe.

*These monthly articles on Black Mental Health issues are written by members of the Bay Area Chapter of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi-Bay Area).

ABPsi-Bay Area is a healing resource and is committed to providing the Post Newspaper readership with monthly discussions about critical issues in Black Mental Health.

We can be contacted at ([email protected]) and readers are welcome to join with us at our monthly chapter and board meeting, every third Saturday at the West Oakland Youth Center from 10am – 12pm. 

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