As a young woman with a history of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, Stacy-Ann Buchanan wrestled with the appearance of portraying external happiness to her family and friends while silently dying on the inside.
After years of trying to solidify her career as an actress, Stacy-Ann made a name for herself as the producer and director of the award-winning documentary, The Blind Stigma, which explores mental illness in the black community. She describes sharing her personal struggles with complete strangers as a form of self-therapy.
“I kept talking to strangers. I felt safe with strangers. I wasn’t judged. I wasn’t questioned. They listened and I felt seen and heard. I can’t count how many strangers I told my business to. And honestly, that’s when I started getting better and feeling more alive.”
They listened and I felt seen and heard.
One of the main topics The Blind Stigma explores is how stigma within the Black community can prevent people from seeking help, something that was also a feature in her own life.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Toronto, she felt pressured throughout her 20s to become the classic immigrant success story and make her family proud. But after years working multiple jobs while struggling to sustain her acting career, which she felt was going nowhere, she was brought to the edge of despair.
“I was turning 30 and I felt like I was supposed to have my life together by then. But I didn’t have the career, or the partner, or the kids, or a house with the picket fence or anything that is equated to society’s acceptance of success,” says Stacy-Ann. "Seeing how hard my Dad worked to come here so that my brother and I could have opportunities, I felt pressured to do something great with my life so that my family here and back home in Jamaica would be proud. But I didn’t have anything nor did I accomplish anything in my life to be proud of. Those thoughts were the key components to my depression and they crippled my mindset. I honestly thought I was just being weak. And the whole idea of weakness terrified me.”
At the same time, the stigma that existed within her own community prevented her from seeking the help she needed.
I didn’t know I had a mental illness because back home we never address mental health. It is always the big elephant in the room that nobody addresses, the dust that is continuously swept under the rug or the family shame that no one talks about but instead turn a blind eye to.
“I didn’t know I had a mental illness because back home we never address mental health. It is always the big elephant in the room that nobody addresses, the dust that is continuously swept under the rug or the family shame that no one talks about but instead turn a blind eye to. I thought to myself: I was well-raised and I went to church often enough to be well equipped to fight any negative thoughts that come my way. How could I have a mental illness?”
It was her father, giving what at the time seemed like the worst advice someone could give about how to deal with mental illness, who she credits with inadvertently helping turn her life around.
"I remember telling him a few times that I was having very negative thoughts. He tried to dismiss it, by telling me to pray on it, to read my Bible and to drink tea. When I brought it up a third time, he said ‘Since you like to chat so much, about you tell your business to strangers?' His fear was that I would tell a friend, who would tell another friend and somehow it would get back to Jamaica that he was raising a ‘mad daughter’. That fear would mean that he has failed as a father. It was a very ignorant suggestion, but it sure saved my life because I really did need an outlet to talk without being judged.”
After sharing her business with strangers and essentially getting better, Buchanan went on to create The Blind Stigma. She knew there were untold stories within her community that needed to be told in hopes that they would save lives, let others know that they were not alone and change the stigma on how mental health is perceived in the Black community.
After the film’s debut, she sought professional help that continues to this day.
“I love therapy. I do. I think the Black community and society on a whole needs to normalize the use of therapy. Gym and therapy can be in the same sentence. Jesus and therapy can be in the same sentence. I still struggle with anxiety till this day but I am more self-aware, I know my triggers and it is maintained. It brings me a certain joy looking at where I am now (she and her partner had their first child last year), knowing where I am coming. It reminds me of a Shirley Caesar song that helped me through my journey - ‘He’ll do it again’, which means that you don’t know how and you don’t know when, but your life will get better again. It is a song of hope that says this is not the end. This is not the end of me.”
Stacy-Ann's story was part of our Not suicide. Not today. campaign in 2020. It remains a powerful story of hope for those living with mental illness.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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