A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

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Depression in the Diaspora
By Nana-Adwoa Ofori

What do you have to be depressed about? If our people could make it through slavery, we can make it through anything.”
“Black women are supposed to be strong-caretakers, nurturers, healers of other people”
“You should take your troubles to Jesus, not some stranger/psychiatrist.”
Excerpt from “Willion Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression
-Meri Nana-Ama Danquah-

 

 

At the tender age of six, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah emigrated to the United States from Ghana, West Africa with her family. The challenges of assimilating to a new life, in a new world juxtaposed against the life she left behind in Ghana proved to be a challenging balancing act.


In her riveting article for The Washington Post, "Life as an Alien", Danquah explored her feelings about her immigrant experience and described it as being "half and half” and having "one foot in each culture". As she states, “in this way, the split between the me who lived in [our] apartment and the me who had to learn how to survive outside was immediate. It had to be. Initially, I suppose that I viewed that split simply as an external divide, straight and pronounced, like the threshold of our front door, marking the point of separation between two distinct realities. On one side was America, on the other was Ghana, and I didn't know how to bring them together, how to make one make sense to, let alone in, the other.”

Depression within the Diaspora is a subject that is for the most part unspoken and in many cases taboo. Untreated depression can lead to impairment in major life functioning and possibly suicide. Clinical depression is an illness just like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Depression is treatable, like any other illness, with an 80% success rate (as stated by the National Mental Health Association).

Author, artist, and champion of mental health awareness Meri Nana-Ama Danquah courageously and openly shared her very personal story with the world in her critically acclaimed first book Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression. This body of work was the first of its kind to address the effects of depression within the African community. The Washington Post hailed the book as "a vividly textured flower of a memoir that will surely stand as one of the finest to come along in years." Danquah claimed her stake in the world as a pioneer for black women in the arena of mental health. Danquah was given a national platform to discuss theses issues openly on The Today Show, Lifetime Television for Women, and ABC World New Tonight, thus enabling a national awareness and dialogue to commence.

Danquah was named national spokesperson by the National Mental Health Association for their "Campaign on Clinical Depression". The campaign was designated to focus on African-American women. Danquah led many workshops, conferences, and gave countless speeches to raise the public consciousness in identifying the symptoms of depression among black women and placed focus on treatment. In 2000, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Welcome Back Awards organization, an alliance of mental health advocacy groups.

Danquah continues to write on a variety of topics and is a tireless advocate for women’s mental health. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Creative Nonfiction from Bennington College. In 2000-01, she returned to Ghana and was appointed a Visiting Scholar at the University of Ghana's Graduate School of Communications Studies. She is the editor of two anthologies: Becoming American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women, and Shaking the Tree: A Collection of New Fiction and Memoir by Black Women

She is currently in the midst of writing a new book.

 

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