We have been showcasing our “Thriving” woman spotlight interview with Danielle Belton this week. And, in this third and final installment, Jenn M. Jackson went full-on politics geek. She asked Ms. Belton of Snob Blog about her personal struggle with mental illness and her opinion on the state of mental illness dialogue today. Ms. Belton gave genuine perspective on today’s political arena and anyone could learn from her stellar advice.
Jenn: So, this is the point where I get to ask you stuff that I really want to know because I am a politics geek.
You have been courageous in sharing your personal story with mental illness with your readers. I have read some of your pieces. I read your Essence piece last year. How do you feel about President Obama’s recent push, especially in the wake of Newtown, to focus on the aspects of healthcare which provide resources for mental health? Is it overdue? Do you think it will work? Obviously it’s not a shot in the arm solution but, I mean, how do you feel about the dialogue right now on mental illness?
Danielle: I think it’s good to have the dialogue. I think it’s important. I don’t like the fact that it’s being conflated with the tragedy because most people who have a mental illness do not shoot up schools. They don’t hurt other people. They don’t commit crimes. People with mental illness, usually the only people they hurt are themselves. So, I don’t like that.
Danielle: I don’t like that it has been conflated with, “Well, you need to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people.” That’s not necessarily helpful in dealing with the mental health crisis in this country. And, it is a crisis. There are lots of people who can’t afford or don’t have access to the care that they need. And, there is such a stigma that sometimes if you do have access, a lot of times you won’t pursue it because you are so afraid of what will happen if it got out.
Danielle: So, I say we need to have this conversation. The dialogue is extremely important. I just don’t like that it’s been conflated with the tragedy but yet people who are talking about that the shooter was possibly autistic or had Asperger’s [syndrome], the vast majority of people with that condition don’t commit crimes. They don’t kill anybody. They don’t hurt anyone. So, it is both helpful and not helpful at the same time.
Jenn: I see what you’re saying. It’s not a balanced conversation so it gets riddled with the tropes and the stereotypes and the talking points. Got that.
Jenn: In the black community we’ve historically been kind of “hush hush” when it comes to mental illness. Especially for black women who tend to be diagnosed with more extreme cases , who tend to be really quickly prescribed certain medications as opposed to certain other therapies or options when it comes to mental illness, and, due to our historical interaction with American and Western medicine, a lot of black women, or black people in general, avoid the hospital or the doctor for that type of subject, period. What kinds of words of wisdom would you offer to our readers and your community about this struggle with these types of health concerns? What kind of advice would you offer?
Danielle: I would say that if need help, you should pursue help. If the help you’re getting isn’t good help, receive a second opinion. When I was going through trying to find out what my problem was, when I was trying to get diagnosed, I had several misdiagnoses. Because they didn’t know what was wrong with me. And, so, I felt like a guinea pig. I went to A LOT of psychiatrists because it is very hard to find a good psychiatrist. If anything, for people who are out seeking that type of help and they are trying to get diagnosed and they are trying to get medication, you have to get out there and do it.
Danielle: It’s for the sake of your own life. It’s so you can have a better life. But, don’t feel like you have to take the first opinion that’s given to you. If your gut tells you that this doesn’t seem right, if it doesn’t feel right, or that this medication isn’t working for [you], it’s well within your rights to move on and try to find somebody else who can help you who’s not [this doctor]. This particular person might be blinded by their own prejudices or just might not be good at their job. I have met my fair share of psychiatrists where I wonder just like, “Why do you practice psychiatry? Why are you in this business? You’re basically like a glorified drug dealer. You’re not actually asking me questions. You’re not following up with me regarding whether the medication is working or not. You are not even particularly helpful.”
Danielle: You know, it’s hard work to find good doctors. It’s hard work to find a medication that works for you. You can’t get discouraged the first time you take a medication and it’s not a wonder drug that solves everything because typically it isn’t. It is usually a long, hard slog to get to a point of balance in your life, a point of normality. But, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to stick with it. So, that’s the advice that I would give just to not get discouraged because it is a difficult path to take on. And a lot of people do end up falling to the wayside because they can’t get through the whole process of trying to find good doctors, find good therapists, find good hospitals, and find good medicine because it consumes a lot of time and work.
Jenn: Right. Very good. So, this my last question. A lot of our readers are very very diverse. In our network, we have Beyond Black & White which is predominantly black women but there are also a lot of Caucasian males who follow that site. We have Black Girl Nerds, you might have heard of Black Girl Nerds. We have tons of different races, creeds, agendas, ages and our network is all about bringing these people together with the commonality of living your authentic life, being who you truly are, you know, not compromising.
Jenn: So, this is my final question. If you were President, right, if you were “President Belton” okay, with the recent polarization of groups, we have polarization on gun control, we had polarization after the Boston Bombings, political footballing on the sequester, and all these conflicts around the globe, what would you offer as a means to bring folks back together, especially on the racial/domestic side, but also on the global scale? What would be your mantra or your goal to get everyone together?
Danielle: Well, first off, I would never want to be president because it is so much pressure. But, in regards to bringing people together, I really feel like there needs to be more public forums in our Congress and with our President where people can actually talk about these things that have happened to them and get some, you know, like an airing of grievances basically. I mean, for much of America’s history, horrible things happen to various groups of people, then there’s like some fight for equality, then, we get the equality and we just kind of move on and gloss over the fact that a lot of pain and suffering has taken place.
Danielle: And, a lot of pain is still going on now. It would be nice if we had some, what I would do is have some large scale symposiums and congressional hearings where we would actually talk about issues like racism, sexism, issues with our Native American communities where people could actually talk about what has happened to them and tell their stories. So, it is a part of public record as opposed to where we just pretend like these things didn’t happen. It’s kind of similar to what happened in South Africa when apartheid ended. They were held here so people could basically just say, you know, they could talk about the horrors of apartheid, what had happened to them, and injustices they experienced. So, it was for the records. People obviously said that these injustices did take place and they were real and you just can’t, you just can’t pretend like they didn’t happen because a few laws passed and some years have gone by.
Jenn: Right. Very true.
Jenn: Thank you for taking time with me today. I have to tell you, I will be honest, they say don’t tell you this, but, when I first thought about this interview, I was a little star struck. But I’m not now. Because I am talking to you and you’re very cool. I mean, you remind me of my friends.
Danielle: Aww, well thank you.
Ms. Belton proved, in this interview, that she 100% deserving of the “Thriving” woman title. Having made a name for herself in one of the most male-dominated, competitive industries, politics, she has shown that perseverance and ambition are strong enough to outlast any adversity one might face professionally.
We want to offer a special thanks to Ms. Belton for being candid, honest, open, and downright charming in this spotlight (not that we expected her to be any different). Look for many many more “Thriving” women to come.
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