Mental Health in Culture
Updated: Jun 28, 2022
I think a majority of us are able to get away with saying “our parents did their best”, right? For me, I grew up with two parents from Trinidad and Tobago who were born and raised with an island mentality that has gone unchecked and passed down from generation to generation.
A mentality that did the job of getting them by in the world, but didn’t necessarily prepare them to deal with their own internal struggles and ultimately prevented them from being able to truly tend to more than just my physical needs. But whether “their best” fell a ways short or was just a complete annihilation of our childhood…I reluctantly still must admit that I think our parents did their best with what they had and what they were taught.
The problem is, of course, that a lot of our parents were taught things through a cycle of generational trauma.
Ideologies and patterns that kept us locked down and away from our true selves.
This way of thinking, while it gave us the idea of progress and forward movement, did the opposite. It held us in a box. And for any of us born outside of the all-white American culture… the weight of this issue was tenfold.
As a child born from Caribbean parents, there were many things about myself that my parents instructed me to push down or “let go of”, crippling my transition into adulthood. There were so many things they told me that (at the time) they thought were right because their parents taught it to them. But now, a decade later, we’re realizing they weren’t right. Far from it. And with empathy and a heavy heart, I’m realizing my parents were truly just kids learning as they went.
At the same time, these teachings left a scar on me. A scar I’ve learned to forgive them for but also one I’m adamant about calling out in efforts to break the cycle with my own children, and hopefully inspire others from similar cultures to do the same.
So let’s break it down.
I’ve accumulated the top 10 toxic teachings from my childhood that not only seem to transcend across many different cultures, but have had the same detrimental effects on the mental health of children born within it.
Read it and learn it so when you identify it, you know to speak up and break it. Cuz it’s 2021 and after a year like 2020, there’s no reason any of us should be giving an ear to any of this shit.
1. Women Should Stay In A Relationship No Matter What
Island men are infamous for infidelity. What’s even more staggering is the women that stand behind them. Now don’t get me wrong, every relationship has its story but within the island community, it’s become almost a badge of honor to “stand by your man” when marital affairs are afoot. There are countless women within my own family who have shared with me that their strength is in being able to “forgive him and soldier on”.
Lots of love ladies, but no. It’s 2021. We’re more than this. We’re not just child-bearers. We’re ceiling-breakers, and we deserve every ounce of respect. By watching women in my family get cheated on—even (mentally and physically) abused, taught me the toxic trait of staying with someone no matter how badly they treated you, and that locked me into a relationship that cut me down for far longer than I’d like to admit.
Breaking out of this took such strength but it had to come with the acceptance that this lesson I was taught was wrong because we’re worth more than that. Our daughters, nieces, sisters, cousins, and friends are worth more than that. If you’re in this situation now, know that you are worth more.
2. Become a Doctor or a Lawyer…that’s it.
“Follow the money,” is what my family instructed me, “and choose a profession that will be needed for years to come so that you’ll always be financially stable.”
That is the key to happiness. “But wait, what if I don’t like it?” I would innocently ask. “Doesn’t matter. Don’t you like money?” I’d be told.
That was the lesson. My passions meant nothing. The things that truly drove me were meaningless because they weren’t cash cows.
You want to be a psychologist? No way. They don’t make much money. You want to be an actress? HA! Only rich kids have that luxury.
Every discussion about an extracurricular would be discouraged but they’d smile proudly at any talk of becoming a doctor or a lawyer because that’s what would pay the bills, it came with prestige, and that’s what we could all depend on.
What did this teach me? There was no time for things not aligning with what they had already envisioned for me. And my personal “dreams” were nothing more than a luxury I couldn’t afford to have. I was only speaking up when I got good grades or when I learned something; highlighting my smarts. Something that would potentially open the door to what they wanted.
But here’s the thing: our kids aren’t living their lives for us. They’re living their lives for them. Parents, encourage your children—in all of their pursuits. Cherish their interests and make sure they know their thoughts and passions are valued.
3. As a woman, you’re not complete until you have a family.
Again, are we back in 1940? If you’re a part of the island community, you know full well how alienating this idea could be.
Whether you get your degree, a big new promotion, start a business, write a book…the first question you’re going to get when you walk through a grandmother’s house will be the same: “When are you going to give me grandbabies? Have you met anyone yet?”
These questions are terribly invalidating, as they push the idea on women that we are nothing without a man standing beside us. That our accomplishments are nothing without albums of children in them.
As a mom who suffered major postpartum depression, I’m happy to stand up and say this is a big fucking problem. I got pregnant (and married), thinking it would be the answer to my problems. The tale goes on to say when I had my son, I was to finally feel complete in my life. He would be the answer.
And then I had him.
And as I stared at my beautiful baby boy in the hospital bed, I shed tears for hours. Hours. Because I felt guilty.
I was staring at this amazing gift I had asked for and I instantly knew he wasn’t enough to make me happy. Neither was my husband standing beside me.
It’s because I was fed lies; lies leading me to believe I’d find happiness in babies and kids. When I should have taught that happiness comes from within.
4. Oh and…no to homosexuality
The majority of islanders are BIG on the Bible. And as they love to remind us: “the Bible says no to homosexuality.”
Yet they fail to touch on the fact the Bible also mentions that no “sin” holds weight above the other. So if we’re believing this whole “homosexuality is a sin” thing…so is the adultery you’re standing by your spouse for. So is the coveting you do when you envy your neighbor’s luxuries.
So is the pork you’re eating every year at Christmas time.
It’s baloney. I like to believe that if there is a God, He loves us all no matter who we love. However, the act of passing down the aforementioned thoughts to our children does nothing but pass down hate and bigotry and close any open doors to communications should they love someone outside the heterosexual norm.
You can’t preach love while teaching the opposite.
5. You have to work hard to be successful
Remember the whole doctor/lawyer thing? Those professions don’t come easy. It’s a lot of schooling and elbow grease in achieving either of those.
That translates to a lot of sleepless nights, sacrifices, penny-pinching. You get it. And island parents love it. “You’ve got to work hard to get where you’re going,” I actually don’t. “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” It literally does.
This hustle mentality may have been necessary a generation or two ago, and I’m thankful for the parents and grandparents who did it, but those generations did it so we could live better lives. These days? It’s not necessary.
Working 2-3 jobs and having no time for yourself…isn’t necessarily an accomplishment. It’s not always something to be proud of. Chasing money is not necessary. Money is constantly circulating and we don’t have to hold on to it like we’ll never see it again.
These ideologies were taught to me because it’s how my parents lived, and it made me go into adulthood thinking I had to do the same thing. But heavy depression and anxiety quickly taught me that way of living is not sustainable for me AND there are other options.
I now run my own business and work 10-15 hours a week max, and while money can be tight sometimes…I wouldn’t have it any other way.
6. Communication isn’t Necessary & Showing Love is Weak.
Ever hear the saying “children should be seen and not heard”? Whew. What kind of shit is that?
As a parent, I can’t for the life of me understand how adults got away with this for so long. I love hearing my kids talk. I love hearing what’s on their mind (as silly as it is sometimes). As far as my relationship between me and my parents, the way we were raised was an entirely different story.
Sometimes, my parents would hear 3% of a story from our days at school, make their own assumptions, then take the belt to punish us for what they THOUGHT we did. No questions were asked, and if we tried to correct them—we were deemed as being disrespectful.
Meanwhile, I remember hearing stories from my father who mentioned showing love in his family was a huge no-go. If he’d get scraped up outside and run to his mother, she would never comfort him with a hug or kiss. Christmas time was the only time he would get a hug from his father…Rough shit.
We were just taught not to show emotion to avoid others getting the best of you. These teachings have got to end because they’re crippling our relationships with our children and ultimately our ability to have meaningful relationships.
Speak up. Show your love. Embrace your emotions.
7. Lighter Skin Is The Right Thing & “Wow…Did You Eat Up The Whole of Miami?”
If you’re wondering if islanders actually say this…the answer is yes. It was notoriously known in my family that my grandmother favored her lighter-toned grandkids, and if you were any bit darker than caramel, you would get ridiculed.
Likewise, the fat jokes never stop. If you weren’t as thin as a pencil, then you needed to be in an exercise program — not to mention, there are some clothes that “just won’t look good on you no matter how amazing you feel!”
Growing up in this environment is hard not only is this socially accepted, but if you challenge them, you’re weak, and too sensitive. You just don’t understand.
So what does a 6-year-old girl do when hearing these things? She bottles it up. Assumes she’s the less pretty sister. Doesn’t like to be in pictures. She looks for outside validation. The list goes on, but the error here is obvious.
Stop criticizing your impressionable kids’ outward appearances. Stop saying things you wouldn’t want to be said to you. What children hear in their first 7 years of life shapes their ideas about the world and themselves. And not valuing their appearances from the age of 7 is so detrimental.
8. Not Owning Up To Your Mistakes Or Calling People Out
All these traits are unhealthy when it comes to our mental health but within the island culture, this may be ranked highest for toxicity. Because there’s an unspoken pact amongst this community that no matter the mistake or the offense, you don’t speak up on it.
If you made a mistake as a parent, you don’t say anything. If you say something you shouldn’t have, you don’t say anything. If you’re doing something you shouldn’t, no one says anything.
The practice of not owning up or calling others out has led to children not learning about accountability or seeing what it looks like to stand up for what’s right, and the absence of such strong values can wreak havoc on creating decent human beings that the world deserves to have.
And while this is strong in the island community, we’ve seen the ramifications of it within so many cultures. Our actions create ripple effects and by choosing to not do something, we’re still choosing. And our children are still watching.
Every island kid has been compared to another kid. It’s simply a part of life. Sometimes it’s your sibling, sometimes it’s the neighbor down the street, and sometimes it’s just someone passing by.
This may seem like a small thing, but these instances have the potential to build and establish insecurities.
“Am I good enough?”
“Should I be like her?”
“I wish I was like…”
Teaching young minds to doubt themselves so early on transfers into adulthood and affects everything they do.
We have to start biting our tongues when we’re talking to children (especially young women) about who they are. Comparing to inspire rather than to belittle is a fine line but should always be cautiously observed.
10. “You Have Nothing To Be Sad About,” Mental Health Isn’t A Thing
If your family is anything like mine, mental health was never spoken about. People who had depression or anxiety were laughed at (yes, even while I was struggling through it). Because as long as you had clothes on your back, food on your plate, and a roof over your head, you had nothing to be sad about. Your parents did their job, and you should be thankful.
This ideology made me think I was crazy. It made me think I truly had nothing to be sad about even though I was sad every day for almost 5 years.
Even though I would feel like crying every time I smiled. Even though I would fantasize about ending it all. Even though spending time with the love of my life would bring me no happiness. I felt drained and isolated because I was taught I had everything I needed and was living the perceived “good life”.
Yet my days felt like hell, and I didn’t want to get help because I felt there was nothing to “dig up”. “Therapy is only for crazy people,” I was told.
This is why it’s the most toxic trait of all. Not working to understand mental health literally takes away our ability to help ourselves. Not hearing our kids when they need help only makes it worse.
We contribute to our own problems by not breaking this ugly belief. If I hadn’t started therapy…I would’ve killed myself.
If I hadn’t decided to commit to working on myself, I would not be here.
If I hadn’t prioritized my mental health and unpacked all the nasty shit…I would not be here.
Your mental health is precious, and if it wasn’t protected in your childhood, you cannot let that be your excuse anymore.
Our parents did their best, but now we’ve gotta do better. For ourselves and for future generations. Because while I’m proof our kids can heal from this trauma, why should we put them in it to begin with?
We’ve got to start breaking this cycle at every turn, and it starts with you. It starts now. Be the change you wish to see. Be the person you wish you had. If not for yourself and your happiness, then for the next generation.
Because the mental health of our children is a priority and if we’re going to start treating it as such, we’ve got to stop passing down these ill-lit torches.
Christie Lin, Aashna Dogra, Harper Harris, and Cameron Glass (in respective of the first image) photographed by Arria Woolcock; Images edited by MORE staff; Styling provided by HijabSoForeign; Makeup artistry by Lori Boykin; Article by Makeda Brown