We Need More Mental Health Days And Less Thoughts And Prayers

·4 min read

We are tired of your thoughts and prayers.

It has been a little over a week since a white racist gunman killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket, and we are once again grieving another mass shooting. This time, 19 children and 2 adults in Uvalde, Texas, have lost their lives to senseless gun violence—intertwined with police inaction. As people continue to discuss their thoughts and feelings on social media, one thing continues to be very clear and present. There is an expectation for us to continue to perform labor despite the grief we are feeling.

We have been here many times before. I was 15 years old when terrorists flew two airplanes into the twin towers killing over 3,000 people. I lived 45 minutes from New York City and yet was expected to go to school the next day and have my homework turned in on time. As a teen, I remember Columbine as clear as day. The next day instead of processing and healing as many of us feared “what if we are next,” we were taught how to run to exits, hide behind desks and lock up classroom doors if a gunman entered the building. I now know this to be part of a conditioning process of desensitizing us while we learn to dissociate and compartmentalize our feelings, grief and hurt from the labor we are still required to perform.

This conditioning has now become a part of our daily lives, especially for Black people. We watch Black men and women be killed by the police time and time again and yet we are expected to show up to work the next day. Expected to walk by police officers in our neighborhoods and workplaces and hide our anxiety, pretending as if we don’t fear the very people being paid to “protect and serve.”

As a community, I can honestly say that many of us are tired of grieving through labor. Tired of not having a moment to process our feelings and thoughts. Tired of not having the ability to say “I can’t perform labor for you today because I barely have enough to perform the labor I need to save myself.” We are in a constant state of trying to survive anti-blackness and racism that is exacerbated by watching the violence on a 24-hour news cycle loop.

And as the responses from politicians continue to flood the internet with “thoughts and prayers,” “we need more mental health professionals” and “gun reform,” Black and brown folks in the country sit waiting for the nightmare simply known as surviving in America to end. Yet and still, we wake up the morning after these violent assaults against our community and push ourselves to perform labor.

That conditioning as a youth through adulthood to be desensitized is all part of the “weathering” process that threatens the quality of life for Black and brown people. “Weathering” is described as how “repeated exposure to adversity, political marginalization, racism, and perpetual discrimination can harm health.” We put our stress to the side as it subconsciously harms us. We hold our rage inside while it eats away at our spirit and mental health. We lose years off of our lives because we are forced to labor through our grief, trauma, stress, and pain.

As Black folks, we have been collectively grieving through COVID-19-related deaths, mass shootings and police brutality. But what we aren’t discussing enough is how as Black folks, we also have to grieve the living. Imagine the day after a mass shooting of 19 children, having to pack up your child’s lunch and book bag and send them off to school. Imagination running wild with the thoughts of “what if’s.” It is an unimaginable existence we live in.

It is why it’s more important now than ever that we really start to discuss our mental health and well-being. I’ve had a lot of careers but only one job that offered “mental health days.” It was a day where you could call in, no explanation was needed other than saying “I need a day for my mental health.” It is something that we must start adopting as a society as the needs of the employee who must do labor need time to reset.

A message I constantly repeat to myself is “Grief is love with no place to go.” And when left with the inability to process that grief, it, in turn, takes away from us, mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. We are all now living in the unfortunate aftermath of grief.

We can no longer labor through our grief. We must collectively fight for the right to have time for our grief despite what capitalism dictates.

I reiterate to the people in power. We deserve the space and time to grieve and process. We deserve action to be taken to ensure our safety and mental health. We are tired of your thoughts and prayers. Faith without works is dead.