Minority Mental Health Advocate: A'Driane Nieves
"As difficult as it will get, living with this will not be the end of you." -A'Driane
Tell us about the work you do and how you got started.
I've written extensively about my experience as a postpartum depression and anxiety survivor. In my visual art, I focus on the impact of trauma-both inherited and personal, and how living with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 impacts my life. In my first couple of years as a mental health advocate, I noticed a lack of outreach and advocacy targeted specifically to and inclusive of women of color. I noticed our needs and experiences weren't being widely recognized or discussed and saw very few spaces dedicated to providing us support. In 2015, a small group of women of color mental health advocates and therapists and I created Tessera Collective. It consists of a private peer to peer support group for women of color living with mental illness, and other social media outlets where we share information that not only raises awareness but shifts the conversation and perceptions about wellness in our communities and situates mental illness within the systems of oppression that impact it.
Why does minority mental health matter to you?
My grandfather is schizophrenic. Other members of my family have suffered from depression and anxiety but no one in my family has ever really talked about it. No one talks about the inheritability of mental illness in our communities; or how the impact of trauma from abuse, racism, poverty, witnessing violence and state-sanctioned brutality and other systems of oppression can have on us psychologically. It's important to not live in ignorance and to be able to give a name to what we're experiencing. I talk about my experience as a Black woman/woman of color because I want to help reframe our perception of mental illness so that we don't just think of it in terms of an individual pathology but to also think of the structures that can impact it. It challenge us to think about the vocabulary we use for mental health and re-connect to the cultural practices that can create healing for us.
What would you tell your younger self?
You aren't 'crazy'. There's a name for this, and treatment that works. As difficult as it will get, living with this will not be the end of you. You will thrive, so don't give up.