Mental Health: A Taboo Topic For Caribbean Families

Raphael Alegbeleye/PantherNOW

Judith George/Staff Writer

I have a lot of love and respect to have for Caribbean parents. They’ve left their homeland and immediately set out to create a new life in a new country for themselves and their children. They may not know the language well and have a college education, but they did everything in their power to keep a roof over our heads, put food on the table, clothes on our backs, and save money to send us off to college. 

But as a new generation in a new country, we would need more than just materialistic necessities, and this is where I believe the struggle lies. 

I’m a child of Haitian parents as well as a psychology major here at FIU. One of the things I’ve learned in psychology is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, formatted in the shape of a pyramid, with the basic needs on the bottom and the more complex ones on top. You can not achieve one of the higher levels without achieving the ones before it. Psychological and safety needs can be easily met. Love, belonging and esteem is what might be a challenge. 

Blood hardly means anything if the bond isn’t there.

Love and belonging would consist of the interpersonal relationships an individual has while esteem would be that individual’s self-esteem. Not understanding that a bond can influence a person is how fractures in a relationship develop.

Being a child in a Caribbean household can be a struggle, especially when it comes to talking to your parents about yourself and your problems. Even more so if you have depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, and have no idea how to communicate that when mental health is a taboo topic. 

There are a few topics I would like to address that can bring awareness to what can damage a person’s mental health and possibly the relationship between parent and child. The first is using the concept of  “family” as an excuse to get information out of your child. 

“We’re a family, you can talk to us.” 

“Why can’t you tell me? I’m your mom/dad.” 

Just because you’re their parent, doesn’t mean you’re entitled to know everything going on with them, especially if they’re not comfortable or ready to open up. Certain things, people rather keep to themselves until they feel ready to share. Forcing a conversation could create emotions ranging from discomfort to stress induced anxiety. Blood hardly means anything if the bond isn’t there.

Now let’s say, they did come to you to talk. Here are a couple areas where I feel like conversations can turn south and lead to more problems than solutions.

Minimizing your child’s problems can mostly likely lead to you not knowing their problems at all. If your advice is “It’s not as serious as you think, just deal with it and get past it,” just know that for some people, that’s not reassuring. It can actually make them feel worse. 

Hearing that could change their outlook on their problems, resulting in overthinking or under-thinking instead of properly handling it, which is why they sought you out to begin with. Instead, offer advice or even just a listening ear. 

Throwing what you did for your child back in their face is another way to create tension between yourself and them.

I’m sure many people can relate when I say there was a point in time where your parents bought you something that you didn’t like and when you told them how you felt, they felt hurt and lashed out on you. 

“What’s wrong with this? It’s nice and I bought it for you!” 

The gesture is nice, but they didn’t tell you to spend your money on it. Especially if they weren’t there to stop you.

Comparing your child to others is one of the quickest ways to knock down their self esteem. Especially if it’s their brother, sister, cousin or best friend. You may see it as setting an example for them to model off of, but they could see it as not being good enough. This leads to insecurity, self esteem issues and jealousy, which can evolve into severe emotions.

Then there’s treating your older child as if they were still that, a child. Understand that they’re growing adults and at the end of the day, humans. They’re capable of processing their thoughts and opinions, and understanding your standpoint. 

Money can’t hide resentment and misery.

Trying to be respectable and have self-control can only go so far until they start to feel angry, sad or hurt by what you’re saying. The minute they raise their voice out of frustration, you as a parent will feel disrespected and remind them of your position in their life. Which is not fair.

There’s also the aspect of religion. Having faith in a religion can be a good thing. But if you, as a parent, constantly believe that there’s malicious spirits at work when your child tells you they’re depressed, this can lead to a fracture in your relationship and their resentment for religion. They came to you seeking support as a parent, not a pastor. Come as a human, not like you’re God.

Even talks about the future can cause problems. It’s natural for every parent to want the best for their children and for them to make money so they can live comfortably. But approving of certain professions and frowning down on others doesn’t always produce positive results. They might not finish school, thus wasting money and time on a major they don’t even want. If they do finish and enter that field, who’s to say they’re happy in that profession? Money can’t hide resentment and misery.

There’s always more to mention, but this is a start meant to help get a foot into a door that’s been closed for many years. Hopefully, these tips will help someone feel less alone and encourage them to continue this conversation amongst others.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

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