Exploring the Intersection of Race, Mental Health, and Academia: In Conversation with Zee

10th April 2024

Zee shares her journey navigating the complex intersection of race, mental health, and academia in a candid and insightful conversation. As a black woman with a passion for psychology and a budding academic, Zee’s experiences offer valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities within these spheres.

Navigating Mental Health:

Zee opens up about her journey with mental health, highlighting the importance of seeking support and breaking the stigma surrounding mental health in the black community. She reflects on the role of therapy in her healing journey and acknowledges the need for greater representation and understanding within mental health services.

“In my experience, I have had to see therapists, when I’ve kind of battled with my own mental health, and every therapist I’ve seen hasn’t looked like me. And that’s definitely something to consider, it’s kind of led me to have to do my own research about things. . . To think you can’t tell me what I need, because you don’t really understand my upbringing, my background”

“I almost had to really explain myself, I don’t know, I kind of felt like I had to help them. I have to kind of explain myself to help them understand what it’s like in the black families. And then after that point has been, you know, established, then we can then talk about, well, how has it affected me”

The Impact of Race and Religion:

Growing up in a religious family, Zee discusses the church’s influence on her life and mental health journey. She shares how the church provided support and guidance during challenging times but also acknowledges the limitations of relying solely on religious teachings for mental health support.

“It’s difficult, because if you’re looking for something that’s not there, you are continuously chasing something that is not going to be in that place. So it just leaves you kind of just feeling a bit kind of lost or frustrated, or, you know, there’s nowhere else to turn… this stigma around, well, you just need to read your Bible, you just need to do this more, you just need to do it more. So it’s not even acceptable to seek help from somewhere else.”

Challenges in Academia:

As a psychology student, Zee reflects on the lack of diversity and representation within academic spaces. She highlights the absence of discussions around race and racism in the curriculum, underscoring the need for greater awareness and acknowledgement of systemic issues within academia.

“So, within psychology, especially, I kind of expected that within every project that we did, there’d be some kind of reference to racism but we haven’t really done any of.”

Building Literacy Around Race and Racism:

Zee discusses the importance of building literacy around race and racism within academic and research settings. She emphasizes the need for researchers and academics to validate and acknowledge diverse experiences, particularly within marginalized communities.

“But then even in this experience, which is academia, which is meant to be very diverse, I still feel invisible, because I’m still having to do extra work. Racism does actually spread. And I do think that within academia, there should be an acknowledgment of that. It’s the failure to acknowledge it that leaves people who are experiencing it feeling invisible. That trauma that happened, it didn’t just go away, it’s around somewhere.”

Moving Forward:

In conclusion, Zee emphasizes the importance of continued advocacy and awareness-building within academia and mental health spaces. She underscores the need for greater representation, understanding, and acknowledgement of diverse experiences, particularly around race and mental health.

“I enjoy doing the work because the end goal is I want it to be out there. I want to say that this person who said this one thing about their experience is really important.”

Zee Byam

I am a final year Psychology BSc student with the aim of qualifying as a clinical psychologist. Shortly after the birth of my first child, I battled with anxiety, obsessive thoughts and depression, which therapy helped me immensely. However, none of the therapists I worked with looked like me, which made it challenging to explore how my culture is intertwined with and separate from my own mental health. This led me on a research journey to learn about mental health in the Black community, some of the root causes and the ongoing impact we see today. My academic project to explore mental health in Black women demonstrated that there is little empirical data available without justification as to why, nevertheless, suffering exists within our community. I intend to become the therapist that I needed and help shape changes in the mental health community to encourage those who are suffering to have access to the treatment they need.

Instagram: @Zouletta_Shares