“If you don’t take care of your mental health, you increase your chances of developing a mental illness,” mental health advocate T-Kea Blackman shared with me as she discussed the importance of putting your emotional and mental wellness first. After dealing with suicidal thoughts for 10 years and being diagnosed with depression and a generalized anxiety disorder, Blackman is now using her battles and diagnosis to educate communities of color on treatment options and decrease the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. The New Jersey native has made it her mission to encourage people to actively take charge of their inner wellbeing as it is the basis for a healthy lifestyle in every other aspect.
For those looking to make their mental health a priority, Blackman offers two pieces of advice. Her first tip is to commit to going to therapy. She pointed out that “therapy is not just for people who have a mental diagnosis. It’s for everyday people; we all have struggles. Therapy will help bring out patterns that you may not have even noticed. I would encourage people to go to therapy if you’re a college student and you have stress that you’re trying to work out or if you’re going through a breakup and you’re having a really hard time coping with the breakup. Go see a therapist. If you’re having financial issues, go see a therapist. You can have everything going right in your life, but you should still go see a therapist so you can keep things going smooth or be able to cope in a healthy way when issues do arise.”
Through her experiences and therapy sessions, Blackman has also realized that it’s important to re-evaluate the way you use social media, as constantly consuming content can lead to unhealthy comparisons. “With the launch of the podcast and the brand, I’ve shifted the way I use it. I no longer use social media the same. I post and say what I need to say and respond when someone comments on something,” says Blackman. She added that “it’s important to go on social media detoxes and take some time to pull away. If a post makes you feel a certain way, go to therapy and discuss why that particular post made you feel a certain way. There have been studies to show that social media does affect people with anxiety or depression because you get into this comparison game. People need to understand the importance of when to turn it off and when to take a break.”
Blackman’s work as a mental health advocate has also led her to recently launch a weekly podcast called “Fireflies Unite” that offers the perspective of individuals thriving with a mental illness. She envisions the podcast growing and taking off quickly because of its potential to tear down the double stigma surrounding mental health prevalent among people of color. “Mental health obviously has a stigma whether you’re black or white. But, I find in communities of color there is a double stigma,” says Blackman. The authenticity and ability to discuss a dark issue in a digestible way is another thing the 27-year-old says will make the digital show stand out.
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What’s next for T-Kea Blackman? She says she plans to continue to grow her podcast and begin offering peer-to-peer programs for people with mental illness through her Fireflies Unite brand. Blackman is also looking to do more speaking engagements to inform adolescents and adults about suicide awareness among children. "I’m in the process now of working on a campaign and it is for children like 8-year-old Imani Mccray and 10-year-old Ashawnty Davis who died by suicide. The initiative is to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention so parents know how to identify the signs. A part of the campaign will include partnering with an organization and selling t-shirts. A portion of the proceeds from the shirt will go towards the Suicide Awareness and Prevention Initiative.”