Prevention & Awareness

Did You Hear about the Rose that Grew from Concrete?

“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?
Provin Nature’s laws wrong it learned how to walk without
Havin feet
Funny it seems but, by keepin its dreams
It, learned to breathe FRESH air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
When no one else even cared
No one else even cared…
The rose that grew from Concrete.”

-Verse from “Did You Hear about the Rose that Grew from Concrete?”
Tupac Shakur, Nicki Giovanni

Imagine you’re the first person in your family to attend college.  You’ve been taught that you need a degree in order to achieve success, but outside of that, you don’t know anything about the actual college experience. You have no idea how you’re going to pay for it. You’ve never been outside of your neighborhood and no one talks to you about preparing for a new schedule or social and academic environment. Underneath all of this, you are experiencing mental health issues. How would you manage a semester?

I spoke with Farida Boyer, a therapist at the Family Outreach and Crisis center in Philadelphia. For six years, Farida has provided therapy and counseling services for black families in the city. She often works with teens and young adults from disadvantaged areas. Before that, she was a teacher and also worked with nonprofit organizations in the area.

When I asked Farida about mental health stigmas within black communities she emphasized a lack of information. Many individuals become accustomed to having friends and family with mental illnesses and regard them as “crazy, erratic, or weird.” There is a vast acceptance of one’s mental illness as being a part of the individual’s personality. In addition, the lack of information and unwillingness to seek help leads to many people self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Therefore, there is this misconception that the reason for someone’s behavior is a result of an addiction. According to Farida, “Many do not seek help until it becomes too much to handle.”

The most common mental illnesses that Farida sees in her collegiate clients include: separation anxiety, depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder. If a college student lacks information about such an illness, something like separation anxiety could easily be dismissed as simply “missing home.” According to Farida, when experiencing separation anxiety, “one may become quiet, emotionally worried when he or she is not around familiar people, not eating, daydreaming, and a lack of focus. I had one patient call her mom like 20 times in a day. She needed to know where her mother was at all times.” And while many people associate PTSD with military combat, it is also prevalent in neighborhoods with high crime rates.

I asked Farida what she could tell me about cultural bias. “A lot. Many individuals call me because they feel that they can relate to me. Patients are insecure about being stereotyped. Therapists need to know and show that they understand the cultural backgrounds of their patients so they can make students feel comfortable and make sound judgments.” It’s common for students to fear appearing weak or to worry about treatment fees, so if they’re in an unfamiliar environment, it’s difficult for them to reach out to the school’s counselor. Despite feeling isolated, a rose in a new environment has to seek out a support system and create meaningful relationships.

In an effort to encourage anyone who relates to this article, I asked Farida to provide advice for college students lacking support. 

FARIDA’S TIPS FOR ROSES:

  1. Know who you are as a person.
  2. Check on your self esteem, does it need boosting?
  3. Have what you need to be healthy: medication, specific foods, etc.
  4. Understand what your what your triggers are, if not try to monitor them.
  5. If you do not have a support person to stay in contact with, find one.
  6. If you feel isolated or believe that you will experience cultural bias, do not be discouraged. Reach out to the counseling center. Trust that these individuals are trained professionals and will assist the best that they can.
  7. When you go home for breaks, check in with your therapist!

I wish I had Farida’s insight during my first semester of college at Louisiana State University! I was an out-of-state student who was overwhelmed by separation anxiety and insecurity. I attempted to isolate myself from my new environment and didn’t create the relationships I desired. If I were educated on these issues, I would have had a better experience. I reached out to Krishaun Branch, an alumni of Fisk University and documentary subject, to provide more awareness and encouragement. Stay tuned for part two!