My daughter’s school has a therapy dog named Tyson and today I needed him just as much as the children sometimes do.
Tyson’s a beautiful big black lab with kind eyes and is very good at his job. Kids will greet him in the morning with a pat or smile. My 5 year old daughter,the NinjaBaby, who almost meets eye to eye with Tyson will often run her hand gently over his coat on her way to class. Children are even allowed to go to the front or guidance councilor’s office to get some time with him, if they’re having a tough day. He even seems to seek certain children out, like he knows they need him, or maybe they have bacon in their pockets idk. Regardless he’s a valued member of the school’s faculty/family.
I say all this because, I didn’t always feel that way. I have allergies to pet dander and my initial thoughts were of if the NinjaBaby was going to be coming home with dog hair all over her uniform everyday. And how much more washing I’d have to do. She LOVES animals and often asks if we can get a dog, cat, or bunny.
People often assume because I have allergies to dogs and cats I don’t like them. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. I love animals, and when I was younger I had cats and dogs. But, we lived out in the country so they were all outside pets and it would take a lot for me to have a reaction. Now it only takes one animal to make that familiar nose tickle start, that spreads to itchy eyes and throat.
When the administration first introduced Tyson in their monthly news letter I assumed he would be consigned to a certain area, or a handler would take him around to classrooms periodically. The school was very considerate and called parents to ask if their child(ren) were either afraid, allergic, or had some other aversion to dogs. I did explain that my daughter should be instructed/allowed to wash her hands thoroughly if she had a session with him. You can imagine how surprised I was when I walked into the school and there he was with free reign.
Over the next few months I would avoid any direct contact with Tyson, worried that my allergy medicine wouldn’t hold up. I’d casually ask my daughter when I picked her up from school if she “played” with him. If “yes”, then once we got home I’d put her uniform in the wash right away.
After awhile I noticed Tyson gravitated to me, he would just stand next to me. As if he were waiting, I usually would just give him a smile and be on my way or ignore him completely.
I suffer from anxiety and depression. I don’t think I ever wrote about it on this blog before. I neither hide nor broadcast it. But as an African American Muslim, I know I belong to two demographics who still have a lot of stigmas about mental illness. And I try to educate people when and where I can.
Today, unfortunately I’m having a pretty bad bout with it. So, when I dropped my daughter off at school I finally took Tyson up on his offering. I just held my hand out next to me and the next thing I knew, there he was. I started petting him and I could feel a little of my anxiety leaving. I stood there petting Tyson until I felt the tickle in my nose.
Having my moment with Tyson, once again got me thinking about the state of mental health for Blacks and Muslims.
According to Mental Health America, Black adults are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues than other Americans. Yet, because of long held stigmas many adults don’t seek treatment or help.
The same can be said of the Muslim American community where there is even less data because of vast socio-cultural differences, according to the Islamic Medical Association of North America.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m just a Black Muslim Woman, living with depression, trying to make it each day. What I do know is that I’ve seen what the stigma of mental illness can do to harm black people and Muslims. It has to stop. People need help and they shouldn’t be judged or chastised for seeking it with reliable sources such as; therapy, therapy animals, or medication. In addition to being religious people.
National Service Animal Registry
National Suicide Hotline
African American Therapist Database
Association of Black Psychologist