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T-Kea Blackman: Success Doesn’t Make You Exempt

Mental health, like money, is often a taboo topic. It’s also a topic that has terminology associated with it that’s usually used incorrectly, namely equating mental health with mental illness and sadness with depression. In fact, many of us equate sadness with depression, but the truth is they’re very different.

In today’s episode, I sit down with T-Kea Blackman author of Saved & Depressed: A Suicide Survivor’s Journey of Mental Health, Healing & Faith and owner of Fireflies Unite, a mental health media and communications company. T-Kea and I go deep into the topic of mental health. We cover everything from T-Kea’s own struggle with depression and her attempted suicide to society’s understanding of mental health.

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About T-Kea Blackman

T-Kea Blackman, MPS (also known as Kea) is a mental health advocate, speaker and author. She is the owner of Fireflies Unite, a mental health media and communications company.

She is also the creator and host of the Fireflies Unite Podcast, a weekly podcast dedicated to bringing light into darkness–just like fireflies–by sharing the stories of individuals with mental illness who are thriving within communities of color despite the disadvantages and racism that negatively impacts their mental health.

​Described as an inspiration, her heartfelt and powerful story is a testament that anyone can thrive despite having a mental illness. T-Kea was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorders and is a suicide survivor. She previously worked in the television industry as a publicist and production/talent coordinator.

Within her career, she provided support to TV One’s signature award-winning shows Unsung and Unsung Hollywood, BET’s Black Girls Rock!, The Soul Train Awards and BET X Youth Experience. Her diagnosis led her to use her communications and media skills to raise awareness for mental illness within communities of color.

T-Kea wrote her first book, Saved & Depression: A Suicide Survivor’s Journey Of Mental Health, Healing, & Faith to educate her community on mental health, as well it encourages them to seek treatment.

To follow T-Kea’s journey and listen to her podcast, visit and connect with her @firefliespod on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Saved & Depressed: T-Kea’s Journey

In T-Kea’s book she talks specifically about her own mental health, her healing process and her faith. One of the questions she asked herself while in the psychiatric unit of a hospital following her attempted suicide is:

“How does someone with an apartment, a car, two college degrees and a promising career end up in a place she was told was for crazy people?”

T-Kea believed the people who ended up needing psychiatric care were people who were homeless, who talked to themselves and who were in disarray. She didn’t know there could actually be something going on internally with these people and ultimately with herself.

In fact, she remembers saying to one of the nurses, “I don’t belong here.” And the nurse replied, “You’re here because your brain is sick. Just like you would go to a cardiologist if you were having issues with your heart. Right now, you’re here because your brain is sick and we’re working to figure out how to help you move forward.”

Even T-Kea’s aunt told her she didn’t belong there with “those people,” and I’m sure many of us would tell someone the same thing in an effort to be helpful and to encourage them to “snap out of it.”

But the truth is … it’s deeper than that.

[spp-tweet tweet=”“High achieving doesn’t mean you can’t have poor mental health.” – T-Kea Blackman“] 

The Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness

We all have mental health. The problem is, a lot of people use the terms “mental health” and “mental illness” interchangeability and distort what each actually means.

So if you ask someone, “How’s your mental health?” There’s a good chance they’ll get offended. But everyone has mental health.

[spp-tweet tweet=”“A lot of times people assume if they have mental health – good or bad – they have issues, but that’s not true.” – T-Kea Blackman“] 

We all have mental health, just like we all have physical health. Mental health is a person’s condition in connection to their emotional and psychological state. So you can have good mental health where everything is great or you can have poor mental health where things like low self-esteem and depression start to creep in.

When poor mental health goes untreated, it can develop into a mental illness such as depressive disorder or bipolar disorder or even in extreme cases, schizophrenia. The biggest thing with a mental illness is it will destroy your ability to function at your maximum capacity.

Depression Is Not A Synonym for Sadness

This is another place where we use the words depression and sadness interchangeability and incorrectly. One of the things T-Kea covers in her book is how debilitating it is when you’re in a depressive episode and how some people perceive you as being lazy or they say, “You’re just sad” or “You just need to push through this.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”“When people use depression and sadness interchangeability, it minimizes the severity of depression and can cause more damage to a person.” – T-Kea Blackman“] 

When you don’t have enough money to get your car fixed, you’re sad or bummed out about it – this is an example of sadness. But when you find the money to get your car fixed, you’re usually fine.

In other words, with sadness, it tends to fade away once the situation gets better. But with depression, there’s a lingering sadness that actually never leaves – like a dark cloud that follows you everywhere. The other thing with depression is there’s often a loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy.

[spp-tweet tweet=”“If we understand that depression is truly a disability, we can have a greater level of compassion for those suffering from it.” – Patrice Washington“]

You can’t always see someone’s mental health just by looking at them. In fact, oftentimes, it’s the high-achieving, high-functioning, people who have poor mental health or are struggling with a mental illness. It’s for that reason we need to show compassion for those struggling and really offer support instead of judgement.

Now, I’d love to hear about your experience with mental health. How do you see mental health in society? Do you agree that the majority of people use depression and sadness incorrectly? Please let me know in the comments below.

And to find out more about T-Kea and Saved & Depressed, visit


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