Adenike Adebiyi Founder of Bounce Black - a community built for and by people navigating mental health while building careers
For many of us, Covid-19 brought challenging emotions to the fore. Whether we mourned the loss of loved ones, jobs, opportunities, plans or progression, the abrupt and drastic change to everyday life sparked a heightened sense of powerlessness and uncertainty, plunging us all into a state of collective trauma. The pandemic gave the world a glimpse of the norm for those whose individual lives have been disrupted by emotional trauma, meaning the bodily response to overwhelming experiences that make us feel threatened, unsafe or helpless.
Yet as the world is attempting to open back up again, it’s important that we resist the urge to resume life as before. We have a rare window of opportunity to build a more compassionate and resilient society through trauma-informed practice, so it matters that we move forward with radical empathy to mitigate the long-term and far-reaching effects of trauma in society. Learning from people with lived experience is an important first step towards lasting change.
“I knew there was a gap in the market because I fell through it.”
Mental health in Black communities
In 2020, I launched a passion project called Bounce Black for Black students and professionals navigating recovery from adversity while building a career. It started off as an online community centered around peer support and psychoeducational content, and it is now evolving into a budding social enterprise with services including coaching, webinars and workshops.
The primary mission of Bounce Black is to support young Black people who are affected by mental health struggles or the impact of childhood adversity, and who are balancing healing from those experiences with carving out a professional identity. Of course, these issues are not unique to Black people, and not all Black people experience them. Still, my work is intended to tackle some cultural attitudes around mental health within Black communities and the obstacles to intergenerational healing.
To illustrate, in the UK, many of us come from African and Caribbean immigrant families in which we are raised into a form of survival mode that heavily stresses academic and professional success, sometimes at the cost of our wellbeing. Black children are often raised with an ingrained sense of high stakes where they may feel they cannot afford to fail lest they disgrace their families on account of the sacrifices made to give them a better life. Even when they do attain that life, Black professionals are not always free from the expectation to “suck it up and just get on with it” because of ‘the Black tax’, referring to a responsibility to financially support extended family. Consequently, many of us channel our attention exclusively on career progression, often pushing through hardships without properly processing and resolving the accompanying emotions.
The “keep going at all costs” mentality eventually has costs, which then run into inadequate cultural coping mechanisms. For example, although there are exceptions, Black communities tend to be deeply religious and/or superstitious, so there can be a reluctance to acknowledge symptoms of mental ill-health, and where there is acknowledgement, misidentification may occur. It’s not uncommon for Black people who struggle with their mental health to be told they are lacking in faith, not praying enough, or in extreme cases, that they need to be delivered from the demonic. Add to this a hesitation towards seeking out medication or talking therapy because of the belief that family business should be kept within the family (or faith community), and we have a recipe for cycles of intergenerational trauma and dysfunctionality. When people do not get the help they need when they need it, symptoms worsen over time because when it comes to mental health, early intervention matters for improving the chances of recovery. As one who believes spirituality and science can complement one another, I felt it important to create a platform to have these conversations more openly because silence keeps people stuck.
“The future is trauma informed because it is trauma impacted”
Leading with lived experience
As a Lived Experience Leader, I knew there was a gap in the market because I fell through it.
Bounce Black is the culmination of having experienced anxiety and depression since before I could name them as such, and a journey to recovery that need not have been as long and as hard as it was, if only I knew what I know now much sooner. That’s why I collaborated with Penguin Press to give away copies of The Body Keeps The Score by renowned psychiatrist and trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. In the book, van der Kolk explores the science of psychological trauma, what it is, how it manifests in the body and lingers long after the initial events that cause it, and different means of healing the symptoms. It’s a life-changing read that has facilitated the recovery process of people worldwide, and it begins with an important premise: veterans are not the only ones who experience trauma.
With that in mind, running the giveaway was just one of the ways I have been trying to be who I needed, and I’m not the only one doing this type of work - there is an entire network (“National Survivor User Network”) of people and organisations using their experiences as a starting point for advocacy and supporting others.
We’ve been owning our stories and taking charge of efforts to fill in the cracks that we previously slipped through so others don’t. In other words, we’ve had a head start at thinking about how the world could be better and kinder, and promote rather than hinder good wellbeing.
A vision for a trauma-informed society
To be trauma-informed is to do our part in nurturing psychological safety and empowerment in others and ourselves. It is about practising kindness instinctively and having at heart the best interests of our friends, family, colleagues and neighbours.
While not all distressing events lead to trauma and people don’t all experience trauma the same way, by virtue of being human we are all capable of being traumatised. So, if everyone understood how people can be affected by trauma, and learned about strategies for healing, extending compassionate concern before jumping to judgement would be the order of the day. And we’d all be better off for it.
Yet as with all lasting change, this work begins with ourselves. If we all commit to doing our own inner work, we can pass on a world to future generations that sets them up to thrive in the face of anything, even a pandemic