By Melanated Minds I Opinion
11th May 2019
Black Minds Matter - Interview with Kanndiss Riley
Continuing our Black Minds Matter series, we spoke with Co-founder of Sheisclothed and mental health advocate, Kanndiss Riley.
Kanndiss is the First BAME Female Women's Equality Party Candidate for Thanet District Council; her election date is Thursday 2nd May 2019. She works in Health, Education and Green and Anti-violence activism. Her advocacy work takes her to events, campaigns and schools to run workshops or speak about these topics. In addition, Kanndiss has also been a freelance digital creative since leaving university and this has to lead her to social enterprise, Sheisclothed a social enterprise that helps young people between 8-25 years old continues in education and find employment.
She is Clothed:
From your own experiences as an advocate of mental health awareness, what have you noticed with regards to the ways in which the black community approach the subject?
That’s quite a difficult question to answer because we’re dealing with a range of ages. Sometimes, members of what I would call the ‘senior community’ - individuals over 70 years old are baffled and can’t tackle the subject. They often have quite a traditional mindset in terms of dealing with mental health.
If I were to generalise, I would say the more they have faith or are embedded in an Afro-Caribbean community, the more I’ve experienced a detachment from the conversation of mental health - and that’s me being very general because there are many organisations that do tackle mental health among faith groups.
What I have noticed is that some people from these communities use their faith as a means to create a feeling of support or encouragement, but mental health isn’t necessarily cured by praying to God - and this isn’t intended to be anti-religious, but very frank. For example, a person could suffer from a very severe personality disorder and praying to God won’t necessarily rid them of it even though it may alleviate them.
I’ve noticed that the black communities are in need of a safe space to have these deeper conversations regarding mental health and also to open up and be vulnerable.
A lack of trust and also the absence of black trained professionals could potentially hinder the black community from seeking medical advice or other aid.
2) What do you think has an impact on the black communities’ view on mental health?
Generally, there is a lack of acknowledgement for black physicians or other professionals who work in these fields. From my perspective, we need to change the way that the black communities view the word ‘medical’. It shouldn’t be seen as a trap, but also see the hindrance of using faith or cultural practices to deal with mental health because generally speaking from my personal experiences, these coping mechanisms don’t work.
Bridging the gap between the black community and organisations designed to help them can really help to safeguard young black people and enable them to safeguard their future children too.
3) To hone in on a particular demographic, what are your experience with young black people and the ways in which they tackle mental health?
From the young people that I have seen in schools as a supply teacher and a workshop facilitator for my company ‘She Is Clothed’, the youth are aware of mental health, they’ve either seen it online through social media or had a friend who has experienced difficulties concerning their mental health. As a workshop facilitator, I’ve noticed that some young people who have existing mechanisms are slightly harder to interact with. For example, some of them watch crude comedies, which often disregard mental health and other conditions, in order to alleviate stress. This is potentially dangerous as it could trivialise serious issues.
I have also noticed that the measures schools take in order to discipline black students could also be problematic. A young person who may be deemed difficult is often punished with detentions or sent to a pupil referral unit instead of trying to understand them and attempt to discover the root of the problem. Young people in this position are often more likely to fall into anxiety and depression and often seek solace in
Living in a country where we have been treated as second-class citizens for so long (22MINS)
We have people in our communities who are experienced in the ‘mind exercise’- as I like to call it. We are more likely to go to the gym to improve our physical health but often neglect our minds. It is really important that young people understand this.
4) Do you think stereotypes such as ‘The Strong Black Woman’ and also the construct of toxic masculinity directly affect the black community?
In many ways, I’ve experienced the effects of these stereotypes first-hand. I’ve been told occasions from numerous individuals that they enjoy my company, as I help them to heal or give them a sense of restoration. I’ve realised that I am skilled at helping people heal, though I have had to ask myself what do I receive from it? How much weight or emotional baggage can I bear?
I myself am still healing. In the past, I've realised that I surrounded myself with very negative people and over time it affected me. I’m still learning to put myself first. People see me as a very strong person, linking into the strong black woman - we’re taught that we cannot show weakness.
Regardless of race, men are not raised to be paternal, so often struggle with expressing themselves or addressing emotions. They themselves often search for a strong woman who can build them up but ignore the possibility that the woman may need support too. More specific to the black community, perhaps black men are unable to comprehend this due to their upbringing. Some black mothers, especially in single-parent families, omit strength and mask their struggles and stress. One saying alluding to this is: ‘A woman who can never be weak hid so much of her weakness, but showed so much of her pain’.
On the other side, our society often ignores the ‘good’ guys - those being guys don’t fit into black stereotypes, have good intentions and treat women well. I’ve come across many guys who have felt pressured. I have come across many guys who have felt pressured to have sex at university or look and carry themselves a certain way in order to attract female attention.
5) What advice could you give young black people in regards to trying to maintain their mental health?
Some of my successful black friends, male and female; have told me they have Whatsapp groups which they use to talk about various issues. In many ways, this is a mechanism to crack that ‘image’ culture.
From my own experiences, here are some tips I could give young people in the black community:
For guys; don’t feel pressured into doing anything, especially at university. Men are often worried about the ways in which they are perceived and often rush into things they may not be ready for.
Self-care is also very important. Young people should have at least two hobbies in order to clear their minds and alleviate stress.
If you’re dealing with something negative, always try and see the positive. To graduates, in particular, employment is often the next hurdle. Persistence is very important, don’t let it get you down, you will find work.
Lastly, there are numerous organisations that cater for the black community such as:
Mentality Live (Insta: @mentalitylive)
The Man Talk (Insta: @themantalk)
Manhood Academy (@manhoodacademy)
KARE SPACE (Insta: @_krspace)
As well as my own company Sheisclothed: