leahjenningsby Leah Jennings

Growing up, mental health was something we did not discuss in our household. In so many words — or a lack of words altogether — I learned seeking help for your mental health state was a sign of weakness, that it was for people who had too much time on their hands and that it was not to be discussed. Learned coping mechanisms included repression and remembering that my ancestors had it much worse than me.

I neatly tucked this view of mental health in my subconscious and carried it with me through the agonizing years of puberty, college life and my first job where I lost most of my hair due to mismanaged stress. It was after being laid off from said first job that I noticed an even deeper descent in my mental health. I stayed in bed, feeling too heavy to move. I felt on the edge of something — life? — constantly. Everything hurt. When I finally found a job a year later, panic attacks grounded me to my office chair until they ebbed away enough that I could walk to my car.

I remember the day that I called the mental health hotline in 2011 that would match me with a counselor, thanks to my reinstated health insurance plan. It had taken me weeks to call because I couldn’t shake the feeling I was doing something wrong. Despite feeling disgusted with myself, I set up the appointment for the following week.

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Sitting in my counselor’s office chair — her name was Kim — my stomach was in knots. No one knew I was there. I hadn’t told any friends and family what I was doing for fear of ridicule. When she asked me what I was dealing with, I burst into tears. The tears didn’t stop flowing for the next three sessions. For the next few months, we worked through things, Kim and I, slowly dismantling my limiting beliefs and fears. She taught me tools to manage my stress, tools I continue to carry with me now.

I am stronger because I chose to acknowledge my mental health and its importance. If you or a friend of color are going through a tough time, no matter what it is, I beg you to seek help. The statistics don’t lie: one in four adults and one in ten children in America are affected by mental illness. And of those, people of color are less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.depressed - silhouette - square_0

As we celebrate national minority mental health awareness month, please remember one thing: Just as you would seek help for a stomach ache or other physical health concern that won’t go away, you should apply this same rule of thought to the health of your mind. Your thoughts control nearly every aspect of your life. Get help today. The stronger version of yourself awaits. For more information, visit http://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/immediate-help/.

Leah Jennings is a certified personal trainer, Zumba instructor and a lifestyle and wellness coach. She is passionate about helping people achieve a balanced lifestyle in the areas of proper nutrition, exercise, mental health and organization. In addition to her career in health and wellness, Leah has also spent time in both the journalism and public relations industries, writing for various publications and businesses across the United States.