I’ve always known that I was different. Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, as an immigrant African woman, I have struggled with major depression all of my life. It’s a topic in my community, as in other communities of color, which is often swept under the rug.
My depression was caused by numerous issues. After struggling with this issue since my early years, I decided that sharing my experience with depression is a way of empowering other women and girls to do the same, while removing the stigma surrounding depression and other mental health disorders in diverse racial and ethnic communities.
Early life was spent in Africa, where I enjoyed a life full of family, friends, school, nannies, drivers, and play dates. That life was disrupted suddenly when my father was ordered into police custody where he undoubtedly would have been a political prisoner and sentenced to death, as was the norm in the 1970s. I was uprooted from the only life I knew and found myself in Liberia for a short period of time (in hiding) and then on a plane to Philadelphia – the Hartranft Projects to be specific.
As a 5-year-old child, the trauma related tithe journey to America was ripe, coupled with the trauma of adapting to my new surroundings in a culture that was different from my own, and a language that was not mine. I struggled to fit in, sticking out like a sore thumb. Adults mocked my parents due to their linguistic abilities and children mocked me.
I entered the Catholic and public school systems as a child with what I know now is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In school and community settings, I was bullied, teased, beaten, shunned, and excluded from activities due to my accent and dark skin complexion. “Black Carol” was the first name that was given to me, and in the latter years “Shaka Zulu,” and then just “Shaka.” I was lonely, sad, and withdrawn at times; rambunctious at others. I wished death on myself on many occasions just so that the internal and external tormenting would stop. I attempted suicide once and have struggled with suicide ideation for years. I could not figure out why the way I looked and sounded was the source of my pain.
As a young child and through my teenage years, my emotional issues surfaced in school. I could not sit still, I was disruptive, and even became the class clown, hoping that by making the other children laugh, they would not laugh at me. As a result, I was expelled from school on numerous occasions and between second and 12th grades, I attended 11 different schools.
The last expulsion occurred in the middle of 12th grade, when I was sent to a high school’s detention room to sit out the rest of the year without classroom instruction. I just showed up and sat there all day for a few weeks until the adult supervising the detention room instructed me not to come back and they would mail me my high school diploma, which they did.
In retrospect, signs of depression are obvious to me and should have been obvious to adults in my circle. My parents and family members constantly stated “lef am so, nah so e tahn,” loosely interpreted as “That’s just Carol being Carol,” which leads me to believe they saw signs of depression but could not help me
p> While my struggle with Major Depression continues, I’ve found purpose in my pain. I’m a Doctor of Public Health Candidate (2018) focusing on mental health disorders and gender-based violence in communities of color; and an advocate, using my lived experience and my voice as my testimony to help women and girls like me.
As an adult, the struggle continues, but I have transformed my pain into my passion for helping women and girls like me, including those who have experienced gender-based violence, domestic violence, and bullying. I’ve made it my life’s work to educate others about depression and other mental health disorders and the resources available so they do not have to struggle and hide their pain like I did.
Carol Bangura, M.S. Ed., DrPH(c).
Carol Bangura is an educator, advocate, and a published author. Carol’s professional experience includes creating culturally and linguistically appropriate education and psychosocial integration programs for diverse immigrant and refugee women and children from countries including, but not limited to Sierra Leone (her country of birth), Liberia, Haiti, Ghana, Turkey, China, Jamaica, Mexico, and Iraq. Carol has also created education initiatives for girls exposed to school related gender-based violence (SRGBV) in Sierra Leone. Carol holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Organizational Development, a Master of Science degree in Education. Carol is currently a public health doctoral candidate and her research is the areas of the intersectionality of race and health disparities in mental health disorders, trauma, and gender based violence (GBV) in communities of color, drawing down on her lived experiences. Carol serves as the Permanent Representative to the United Nations for the GIRLS! Project in Consultative Status to ECOSOC; Chair of the Children and Youth Committee on Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs in Philadelphia since 2010; and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Carol is currently a Research Fellow in the Immigrant Affairs and Language Access Services Unit, Planning and Innovation Division, DBHIDS.