Inspiring People

Author and Advocate, Lisa Brown

Lisa Brown

Lisa M. Brown is a passionate and dynamic entrepreneur who, with the help of God, overcame depression to lead a thriving consulting business. As a business owner, daughter, sister, and mother of three, she brings her rich Christian heritage and experiences as a Black woman living in America to the very important issue of depression.

Despite her five-year battle with depression, Lisa attained professional success early in her career and at the age of 35, became one of the youngest senior executives with the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association. She later went on to build Nonprofit HR Solutions, a fast-growing, trail-blazing consulting firm focused on meeting the human resources needs of nonprofit organizations. She is also active in her community and has served on several nonprofit Boards of Directors including the DC Rape Crisis Center and the African American Nonprofit Network. She was also the co-producer of the 2010 Lake Arbor Jazz Festival, a first-of-its-kind event in Mitchellville, MD that brought together contemporary and traditional jazz lovers in a local community setting.

Lisa is deeply committed to living out her faith in God in a meaningful way. And currently attends Bladensburg SDA Church.

As a depression survivor, she now openly shares both the pains and triumphs associated with living with chronic sadness and having overcome.

Depression is one of those subjects that most people want to avoid, but according to Author and Mental Heath Advocate Lisa Brown depression is something that should be taken seriously. Lisa believes that many suffer in silence and that Black women of the Christian faith have specific challenges and obstacles when it comes to recognizing, acknowledging and accepting that they may be depressed.

DR: Do you have a personal experience with Depression?

LB: I do. I actually wrote my book Strong on the Outside, Dying on the Inside, based on my experience.

I suffered from depression for five years. Not a soul knew. I was at the height of my career. I had just gotten a promotion to vice President of the organization I worked for. I had my corner office, my six figures and my rubber tree plant and at the end of everyday I would get in my car and fall apart. Every single day. And, nobody knew.

DR: So then how would you be feeling when you were at work versus how you would be feeling at the end of the day?

LB: I think of myself as a highly functional alcoholic. I was highly functional as a depressed woman, successful even. But I couldn’t hold it together when I left work.

DR: But you could hold it together while you were at work?

LB: I submersed myself in work...

DR: And that worked for you?

LB: It worked. Absolutely. That was my drug of choice. Some women shop. Some women gamble. Some drink. Some party. My drug was work.

DR: And it was high pressure and adrenaline?

LB: Absolutely. And I saw success for the hours that I was at work. I was successful but, the moment I would put my key in that car...

I would cry everyday.

DR: In front of people? Did your family know?

LB: No. No one knew. Occasionally my husband would see me cry and I would just tell him that I had a bad day.

For five years no one knew and I finally got tired of keeping my game face on. I dedicate a whole chapter in my book to finally removing the mask.

DR: Tell me about your book and more specifically about the particulars of what makes this kind of depression unique.

LB: I would say what makes this particular phenomena unique to Black women, and more in particular Black women of faith, is the double dynamic of needing to be strong as a woman, because that’s what we do. That is what we talk about and we take great pride in being strong. When you are a Christian the expectation is that you will just pray and “it” will go away. That’s not always the case. Sometimes we need to pray and seek help. Until we do that we suffer in silence. We don’t talk about the issue because it’s not acceptable. Depression is seen as weakness. It’s seen as a White woman’s disease or a luxury for rich people.

Strong on the Outside, Dying on the Inside

Strong on the Outside, Dying on the Inside is a wonderfully written tribute to faith, courage, hope and healing.”

Don’t be fooled by the small size of this book. In it, Lisa Brown packs a powerful message of liberation: With the help of God and qualified professionals, Black women can break free from depression.

A successful businesswoman in Washington, D.C., Lisa uses her own experience and the Biblical story of Hannah to shed light on the unspoken sadness that plagues so many Black women today. With the energy, humor and compassion of a close girlfriend, she describes the signs of depression and charts a way out.

Depression is an equal-opportunity illness. But Black women – especially those who consider themselves strong – are particularly reluctant to seek help: Only 12 percent of those affected receive treatment.

Why this resistance? Citing contemporary experts, Lisa points to reasons rooted in African American culture: the widespread belief that depression is nothing more than a bad attitude, a case of the blues, or a sign of personal weakness.

Emotional needs are not easily acknowledged by women who have been the backbone of their communities while enduring the harsh realities of slavery, bigotry and bias.

What’s more, many of these God-fearing, church-going women may resign themselves to depression, accepting their sadness as a fact of life that God, the church and their families expect them to bear.

Lisa rejects that interpretation, reminding Black women that God offers them both joy and peace. She urges readers to draw on their inner strength not to deny depression, but to face and overcome it.

Lisa calls herself “a living testimony to the value of good therapy and God’s undeniable ability to heal depression.” In these pages, she reaches out to strong Black women, inviting them to embrace the same blessing and recover a life of promise and purpose.

The book is available through Borders and all other major retailers.

DR: How do you see it? I ask that because I am sure that there are a lot of people who think that it is something you can just “get over”, who might confuse the inability to deal with extreme challenges with being depressed. How do you distinguish the two?

LB: I would say depression is chronic. It’s despair and a lost feeling of hope that extends for a period of time...

DR: Meaning?

LB: More than two weeks and it’s consistent, ongoing darkness, gloom and perpetual sadness. That’s different than having a catastrophic situation for which you have a reaction and then, over time, you get better.

Depression lasts a long time and it doesn’t get better regardless of the circumstances.

DR: You talk a bit about the tendency that women have to condemn themselves if they experience these kinds of symptoms and conclude that “There is something wrong with me.”

LB: Well we hear that from a number of places. Black women are expected to be strong and we are supposed to have it all together and not take stuff. Then if you find yourself not being that, you feel guilty. Then, as a Christian you feel guilty that you have prayed about something but you are still struggling and it has not gone away. We feel guilty for feeling helpless and for not meeting the expectations of friends and family, for not having it all together because that’s what we do after all. We’ve gone through slavery and Jim Crow and all of these things and got through them so why can’t we get over the blues? No. That is not what depression is.

DR: Where does someone start? How does someone begin to identify depression so that they can deal with it?

LB: The first thing we have to do is know what the symptoms are so that we know that if we are experiencing those symptoms for a prolonged period of time, meaning for more than two weeks, there may be something going on. So we have to know the symptoms, which are:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive appetite
  • Loss of hope
  • Loss of energy
  • Anger

Some of those angry women that we see may not be angry. They may in fact be depressed.

Once you have noticed that you have all of the symptoms you have to realize that you are not just in a funk. Depression is a legitimate mental health condition that, with treatment, is curable.

You must give yourself permission to acknowledge what you have so you can talk about it and get the help you need. Seek out a mental health professionals whether that’s a psychologist, group therapist, a social worker or someone else who has professional expertise to deal with depression.

DR: I am curious about the relationship between fear and depression. Does fear fuel depression?

LB: Fear fuels depression.

Women are very afraid. We are afraid to let people know that we’re not as strong as we look. We are afraid to admit to having challenges with mental health because people will think we are crazy. We are afraid to get help within our faith communities because churches don’t understand how to deal with depression.

Admittedly, many of us are still connected to our faith traditions. The way we think comes from our faith experiences and so if we can’t go to the very people that we consider to be a place of solace then we are afraid...

DR: It has to be scary to challenge the ideas of a system and an inflexible institution that has been in place for so long...

LB: Yeah...

DR: How important is it to educate communities about the realities of depression?

LB: I think it’s critically important. Actually The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) is doing a fantastic job of reaching out to Black churches. So much of what we do and believe in comes from the pulpit. We are heavily influenced by our pastors and people who are in positions of leadership in the church and if they can embrace the fact that this is a bonafide health condition then give their congregation license to seek help, some of that pressure is alleviated because you don’t feel the level of ostracism that you would have felt had this not been said. I think it’s really important that even in the absence of that, we recognize that this is a bonafide health condition whether the church endorses it or not.

DR: What could depression look like when gone untreated?

LB: For a lot of women, Black women in particular, depression manifests as anger and lashing out. I am convinced that a lot of the women who come across as “Angry Black Women” are not in fact angry but rather broken. As a defense mechanism they lash out as a way to insulate themselves from their own pain. In the movie Precious we see women who lived very difficult lives. We internalize pain and it has to go somewhere. I think that half of the women who come across as angry are just broken.

DR: Do you think that in the absence of venting or talking or having productive way to work through difficult circumstances can lead to depression?

LB: I think it can. I think it absolutely can. I think guilt about how you feel and the fact that you “shouldn’t be feeling this way” can lead to depression.

Not everyone is angry. Some women are just sad and you’ll never know.

DR: And for the sake of mere survival you have to look like you have it together.

LB: You have to always bring you’re A game - “I don’t have time for this”! That pressure alone can cause you to continue to suppress whatever you are feeling - “I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time.”

DR: As a pioneer in this phenomena, as you bring attention to this issue and educate people, what do you hope the state of things will be as you look down the road? In terms of public awareness and advocacy what would you like to see?

LB: Reality says that we have generations of habit and practice to overcome. To be honest a few years probably won’t move the needle significantly regarding cultural norms on this issue and the fact that the Black community looks at depression as taboo.

I would hope that at least conversations can begin.

My mission is around women of faith; women who are in church every Sunday morning singing and shouting and dancing and clapping. I would like to help them unlock their pain and give themselves permission to treat their emotional health as well as they treat their spiritual health.

DR: 100 Years from now what do you want to be remembered for?

LB: As someone who was willing to take a risk and be out there with my own very personal story.  When I tell people my story I get this strange look.  It’s either totally blank or they will say “Okay.  Can you excuse me?”  They can’t process it...I met with a group of successful women, Senior Executives and at the end of the session a woman came up to me and she just started crying.

I want to know that I gave someone the space to know that it was okay to talk and to get help and that they are not the only ones going through what they are going through.  That’s important to me.  So that is what I hope I am remembered for:  For opening the door for someone to get emotional freedom and healing.

Thanks Lisa!

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health)

For three decades, NAMI has established itself as the most formidable grassroots mental health advocacy organization in the country. Dedication, steadfast commitment and unceasing belief in NAMI's mission by grassroots advocates have produced profound changes. NAMI's greatest strength is the dedication of our grassroots leaders and members. We are the families, friends and individuals that serve to strengthen communities across the country.

NAMI offers an array of peer education and training programs, initiatives and services for individuals, family members, health care providers and the general public. NAMI's education and support programs provide relevant information, valuable insight, and the opportunity to engage in support networks. These programs draw on the lived experience of individuals who have learned to live well with mental illness and have been extensively trained to help others, as well as the expertise of mental health professionals and educators. NAMI and volunteer grassroots leaders are committed to education as the pathway to recovery, empowerment and wellness. In addition to education programs and initiatives offered through NAMI National, many of NAMI's over 1,100 affiliates offer an array of support and education programs and activities for families and individuals. Many of NAMI's program offerings are also available in Spanish language and some are also provided by means of translations into other languages.

Click here to visit the website and learn more.

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