CN: alternative parenting, alcoholism, addiction, mental health experience, depression.

Introduce yourself a little.

My name is Ivan Simpson-Kent and I’m currently a 3rd year PhD candidate in medical science (specialising in developmental cognitive neuroscience) where I research how the brain contributes to cognitive ability in childhood and adolescence. West Philadelphia born and raised (yes, I know about the Fresh Prince haha) where going through adversity is a way of life rather than a rarity. I’m just lucky I made it out of the Hood.    

Which experience do you wish to represent by sharing your story about mental health? i.e. gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, age, nationality, health condition, family dynamics.

Black/African American, grew up in the Hood, born to alcoholic and drug-addiction biological parents and raised by a lesbian couple (my other two moms 😊)

Share as much or as little as you would like about your mental health experience.

Out of all the adversity I’ve experienced throughout my life, I believe mental illness has had the most negative effects. Sure, growing up in a dangerous environment without my biological parents, experience betrayal, abandonment, etc. definitely sucks haha. But all those factors are external, I know they’re outside of my control, but I also have the opportunity (if I try hard enough as the mantra goes) to overcome these difficulties.

But what happens when your own mind becomes external? How do you overcome your own toxic thoughts, emotions, and perceptions when you can’t get away or take a break from them? I have no idea what the answers are to these questions but battling my own mind has been by far the greatest obstacle I’ve ever faced. And since it’s my own mind that plagues me, I can’t escape from it. There’s no safe space I can go to and detach myself. The best I can do is try to maintain good health (via medication, therapy, etc.) with my mental illness and weather the storm.       

How do you feel this cross section has affected your mental health? Referencing representative groups above.

Belonging to a racial (African American) and cultural (dangerous neighbourhood) minority, having mental illness is often stigmatized. Depression, paranoia, etc. are a “white person’s problem”. Therefore, often when I’ve confided in my friends or loved ones about my issues, they often gave me unhelpful advice despite their best intentions.

Fortunately, topics surrounding mental health are becoming more prevalent in minority communities, which gives me hope for the future. However, it must be emphasized that, given the dominant “man up” and “just smoke some weed” culture in these communities, there’s still much more awareness, work, and healing that needs to be achieved.    

When you say a “white persons problem” – do you have any ideas on how this false truth could be deconstructed?

Maybe by having ads that show minorities going to therapy or calling helplines or using medication. I also think that movies & media tend to attach psychological illnesses to white villains (e.g. Joker) more often than to minority villains (e.g. can’t even really think of one, which is part of the problem). We must talk and SHOW diversity or else the message won’t get across.

How do people respond when you talk about your experience and how it relates to mental health?

Most of the time people seem taken aback by my openness about my mental health problems. I guess it’s because I talk about it so candidly as if it’s a normal conversation and I think that it catches them off guard. 

Why is it important to you to talk about & share your story?

Because mental illness is real! It’s more common than we often want to acknowledge and it’s affecting real people. Similar to gun violence, homo/trans/xenophobia and sexual assault, people are traumatized, debilitated and killed by mental illness. I know that my experiences of mental illness don’t represent everyone else’s, but I want to be a positive voice and do as much as I can both for those who have passed and those continuing to suffer in silence.      

What advice would you give to people who experience this double-edged sword of mental health issues combined with possible struggles of being part of a underrepresented group?

Don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re going through isn’t real or that you’re just being weak!

What is your no.1 self-care tip?

I try not to surround myself with negative energy including people and situations that will trigger me. Just because someone is a good person doesn’t mean they’re good for your mental health.

If you were to choose the top three things that make you happy, what would they be?

Knowledge, genuineness and loyalty.

If you could pick one thing to do to cheer up a friend what would it be?

Probably take them on a night out with me haha. I often find that partying/dancing brightens up my mood.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!

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