“Oh please! You’re an A-student, you’re pretty, you’re a cheerleader, you have all the cute guys running you down; you have nothing to bother you.” These are the sentiments that were sometimes told to a teenage Angelique Cohen as she tried to explain what she was going through as she battled depression and anxiety.
Now an adult, Cohen has become a mental-health advocate, helping others who have been in the same position in which she has found herself a number of times in the past.
“It was difficult for me from I was a child because I lost my mom at age three and I lost my dad when I was 11, so I grew up with my relatives between aunt and grandmother,” Cohen stated. “I grew up privileged but at the same time, I would say misunderstood and I’ve always had the feeling of not belonging.” This was further compounded by the stigma attached to mental health, and being in the ‘privileged’ income bracket did not make the situation any easier for Cohen.“There is this stigma about mental-health illness for more than one reasons because they think that you have to be poor, or in the inner city or ‘bruk’, or those kinds of things,” she said, “So for example, like me, I am pretty; light-skinned, what they call ‘Reddaz’, and went to one of the best high schools, Immaculate Conception, and you come from a privileged family; it’s like you don’t have anything to be worried about; what do you have to be depressed about,” she recalled.
Cohen relayed that growing up, she never received any counselling after her parents’ deaths, and being back and forth between relatives did not help as she felt there was not much stability. She further explained that when decisions were to be made there was so much back and forth between her aunt and grandmother that she felt she did not really belong to anybody. All valid feelings, but they were brushed aside by a family that was always working.
“This is the stigma that we need to break. We are not able to express what is going on inside because we grew up in a culture where, when people go through certain things and we try to express it to a parent or friend, and because they can’t see it, they can’t understand so they are just shrugging it off and responses like that just shut us down,” Cohen explained.
She said combating the stigma will come down to changing the narrative surrounding mental health and trying different avenues to actually help to battle depression and anxiety.
“I was in my late 20s and I got divorced from my husband, that was basically my boiling point where everything came bubbling over, and that’s when I got formally diagnosed with clinical anxiety and depression,” Cohen said.She stated, however, that divorce was not the reason for this breakdown, but other things that were just under the surface waiting to come forth. After her diagnosis, Cohen’s journey to seeking help was still not easy since talking about the issue did not help. It took a couple tries, but she soon found art and nature to be the things that could keep her balanced and grounded.
“I realised that I didn’t want to read any books; I didn’t want any theory, I didn’t want to listen to anybody preaching to me; all of those things were a turn-off, and when things got even worse because I have been through everything; eating disorders, cutting, addiction to different things, and at some point three years ago I actually attempted suicide,” she disclosed,
“When I was at rock, rock bottom I didn’t want to hear all the theories. Everybody is different, but I wasn’t interested in that; what helped me, what saved me and continue to save me was music.”
She believes in cultural therapy, coupled with speaking with a psychologist, as she stated that her doctor, Kai Morgan, has been instrumental in getting her to the point she is now.
Music has helped so much that Cohen hosts a monthly show called Magic, which highlights depression and other mental-health issues, and even uplifts those who come to perform or just watch.
Magic has been put on hold, however, for the time being, as Cohen stated, “one cannot help, if they are also empty.”