When I graduated from college, I walked out into the world excited to begin my new life. Undergrad was a place where I naturally thrived. Like many people, I threw myself into academics, extra-curriculars, and all the social events that I had an outfit and partner-in-crime for.
Don’t get me wrong. Those four years delivered undeniable struggles in unimaginable ways. I graduated knowing that I had a community of people supporting me and holding me accountable. I needed them the most when I left and moved half-way across the country. In that move, I soon realized that I was experiencing bouts of depression in subtle and passive ways. With that, I didn’t know who to talk to professionally.
In a resource I found some time ago, I discovered that a graduate student’s risk of anxiety and depression is more than six times higher than that of the average person. For many students like myself, there is a sense of loss in changing identity, unreasonable and unhealthy expectations, and financial stressors. All of these things play into our psyche in ways that I had not yet experienced before.
Upon arriving in Boston for graduate school, I jumped out the Uber to figure out what this city had to offer me other than great seafood. Within the first weeks, I immediately began to see myself a little differently.
The worst part about the transition initially was doing introductions for each class. “Hello, I’m Terrence Johnson and I am from Mississippi.” It wasn’t bad because I was nervous or unsure of myself.
But when people heard me speak and I told them where I came from, some of them immediately began to question my intellect, disapprove of my look, and doubt the legitimacy of the institution they chose to attend. This ultimately played into my mental space by amplifying the beginning stages of post-graduation depression. Funny thing is, I had no idea that I was experiencing this phenomenon until months had passed.
Many black people have a strained relationship with physicians for many reasons. Historically, health care has used black bodies, much like the rest of American society, without consent or acknowledgement for selfish advancements like Henrietta Lacks and the Tuskegee Experiment.
For me, having a black person that could relatively relate to what I was experiencing through one of my lenses was important to me. But in 2013, only 5.3 percent of psychologists were African American and that number had not increased much since.
Finding that fly in the buttermilk was tough. Honestly, it should not have been. There is a strong need for black and brown mental health physicians for multiple reasons. There are several stigmas that surround mental difference for black communities. There are also specific experiences the amplify the need for more people of color in the field to provide spaces that are free from racism and microaggressions.
Shortly after, this idea of post graduation depression grew into imposter syndrome. Why should I be here? What impact could I have? How am I a part of the ranks of people like this?
I tried to understand this rainfall of emotions under the umbrella of all of my personal identities. I was not prepared for those feelings to control who I was and my actions.
And I knew that talking about mental health and discussing my personal differences could emphatically help who I was and what my experience looked like. But who would I talk to?
I found solitude, though, in those who surrounded me and in the family I have back home. Being able to discuss my emotions in a safe, nonjudgmental environment changed my perception on how I viewed myself, my experience, and the negative passive aggression of classmates. And I knew that if I had experienced this, then there had to be hundreds of others who were having a similar revelation that could be more severe.
There is no way to completely prepare for the graduate transition. There is definitely no one teaching us or giving us tools to help carry our identities into these spaces in a healthy way. There are not enough mental health physicians of colour. And there are not enough white physicians that can intentionally empathize with a black or brown experience.
I am unsure of a holistic way to to remedy this. This is true. However, there is a strong possibility that there is a black student working diligently at this moment to be a beacon to someone like me.
Keep going, you matter more than you know.