Lawrence Lindell (From Black Boy With Love) is an artist, musician and educator from California. I came across his comic, Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This, in late 2017. It’s a 126-page black and white book that deals with mental health, his to be exact. Lindell wrote the comic to help cope with his mental well-being, specifically post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar and anxiety. It follows his journey of self-discovery and deals with the stigma of mental health.
- Photo via @LAw_Artist Twitter
To understand Lindell’s comic you should know a bit about how mental healthcare works in the United States, or perhaps the way it doesn’t. The stigma of mental health in America adversely impacts us all but people of color face significantly more barriers to obtaining mental health care. These barriers are systemic, environmental, and societal. According to the United States Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.
Dior Vargas is an activist and the creator of the People of Color & Mental Illness Photo Project, a project that rejects and offers a counter narrative to the invisibility of people of color in the media representation of mental illness. Her advocacy work has been cited on Let’s Erase the Stigma is an organization dedicated to education, providing resources, and access to communities of color about mental health and well-being. Receiving mental healthcare requires access and there is a severe shortage of mental health practitioners who cater to the specific needs of communities of color. Provider bias and unequal care, distrust, misdiagnosis and socioeconomic factors are also contributors to precluding those who need help from seeking it. These are all issues Lindell touches on with his comic.
Below you’ll find my interview with Lindell along with pages of the comic he graciously provided.
- All images courtesy of Lawrence Lindell
AYRES: “Can you explain who you wrote this comic for, how the idea for the comic came about, and the kind of feedback you have received? Is there any feedback that has particularly surprised you?”
LINDELL: “I wrote this comic for me (lol) and those dealing with mental health issues, especially for folks of color with mental health issues. Because I’m speaking from my perspective and I am a person of color, it relates to a lot of the stigma and intersections that people in my community deal with when it comes to mental health.”
AYRES: “There is a panel that says, “Black people and mental health don’t mix, we don’t call it trauma, instead it’s just a part of our story somehow, we never get to feel.” Can you talk more about how feelings and experiences are denied, perhaps more about how your feelings were denied? Are there cultural messages, environmental cues…?”
LINDELL: “Mental health and therapy amongst black people (not all, but the vast majority) is seen as a no-no. Growing up I often heard “black people don’t do therapy” or if you’re like me and grew up in a religious family, everything can be fixed by praying about it and “taking it to Jesus” which is not the case. I have nothing against prayer, but it is super clear that further assistance is needed.”
AYRES: “You speak about how complex you felt your identity was (and is) while discussing how society gave you all these messages about the things you should be instead (how you should act, what you should do). That’s a lot of pressure, it’s so much to maintain and it’s a burden not placed on those in places of privilege. I would be curious to hear about the kind of pressure you felt this placed on you and perhaps elaborate on how it impacted you and your development? How did you come to this realization?”
LINDELL: “When growing up in the States as someone who is black, there are a set of rules you seem to have to follow. Either you talk too white, or you talk too black. I had a teacher once tell me that I have an advantage to being tuff because “black people are naturally scary.” If I do something that doesn’t fit in with this ideal of what “blackness” is then I’m not really black according to some. That is why I encourage people to discover themselves. You are who you are, no one gets a say but you.”
LINDELL: “We put too much on children. Therapy should be in every school and institutions as a requirement. When my parents got divorced it took a toll on me because I was not ready to process what was really happening. I was only 12, barley figuring myself out, then I was suppose to make sense of going from seeing my dad everyday to 3 times a week. That would confuse and mess anybody up. Therapy should be mandatory.”
AYRES: “I think your comic is a beautiful portrayal of what is missing so often from our discussions of mental health, especially in a society that values immediacy. It’s the need to remove pain or uncomfortable feelings quickly and often with the least amount of effort. In one of the panels you say “If I could, I’d take all your pain away, but I can’t. But I can lift you up.” It’s an act of showing oneself compassion and I just wanted to know if you can speak more about how you show yourself compassion and why it is so important for people to do so?”
LINDELL: “I make sure people understand how important they are. We need more empathy as people. If we can just attempt to understand how people feel, it allows for more compassion. People often act on their own understanding and ego. There is no place for healing when ego is involved.”
AYRES: “I can recall in grade school having to make the ‘food of our ancestors’ for what my school called Ethnic Fair (which was a literal offensive ass thing we had) there was never a thought given to someone not being able to trace their roots, or know where they came from. Your comic deals with this directly, in particular the role slavery (its lingering effects and racism) had in shaping the formation of your identity, can you perhaps talk more about how this contributes to mental health and wellbeing and how important it is for people to be aware of?”
LINDELL: “In school we are taught, black people were slaves, then they were freed. White people didn’t like this so some bad stuff happened, but now we are all good. I went to school in the 90s, so there was no social media or google the way it is now. My folks and family made sure I knew my roots, but it’s a difficult thought process to have. Especially because I can’t just say, oh yea, my family is from such and such. Instead every time an assignment like that was brought up I was forced to relive the embarrassment and shame that came with not knowing because people hated me and my people so much.”
AYRES: “I love the part where you lay out the different phrases people should and should not listen to in their heads. As someone who has gone to therapy, who has often been the person who gets so mad at themselves for over complicating everything, these are really easy steps for people to follow. How did you come up with them?”
LINDELL: “I always try and make my work accessible in terms of receiving my messages. I want to make sure EVERYONE gets it. I’ve been around for 30 years and I’ve seen first hand how hard people as young as 6 can be on themselves. I just wanted to have a reminder that everyone can follow.”
Lawrence Lindell’s Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This is available for order on the website Big Cartel. You can also catch him at the Peninsula Libraries Comic Arts Fest on February 10, 2018, at the San Mateo Public Library.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline –1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat: If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline – (1‑877‑726‑4727): Get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area. Speak to a live person, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST
DCoE Outreach Center: The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Site exit disclaimer (DCoE) provides information and resources about psychological health, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury. To contact the center: Call 1-866-966-1020, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; or e-mail [email protected].