Black Women and Mental Health

I’m pretty addicted to Tumblr  on Tumblr fairly regularly, and a few weeks ago a blog popped up entitled “This is Black Privilege.” The purpose of the blog was to mock other blogs on the site that dealt with white privilege. One of the posts from this blog was something along the lines of (paraphrasing) “Black women privilege is being able to say whatever you want without being called on it, when other women are called a ‘bitch’ for the same thing.” I mean, if that is not the biggest load of garbage you have ever heard in your life, I don’t know what is. It speaks to a number of issues including white privilege, lack of critical thinking skills, and cognitive dissonance associated with not having to actually live as a Black woman, and be referred to as “the angry Black woman” for simply disagreeing with something. Anyway, as a response, on my blog I wrote “Black female privilege is being referred to as ‘so strong’ and ‘angry’ when you’re actually suffering from undiagnosed depression.” It was a simple statement that I am well aware of from personal experience, and it seemed to resonate with a lot of other Black women, as well, as the post received more than a few notes. And, that made me sad.

Depression and mental health issues, in the media and public at large are often associated with white people. If a white man goes on a shooting spree, it must be due to mental illness. If a Black man does the same, he was just violent (thank you racism). Unfortunately, this misappropriation is not limited to gender. When we think of Black women in general the words “angry” “strong” “independent” often come to mind. I used to read a blog that dealt with Black women and interracial dating, and by far, a majority of the men on the site said they found Black women attractive or appealing because we were “strong and independent.” Sounds good, right? No one wants to be thought of as weak. But then, I think about the notes and comments I received on my post about Black women and depression, and I realize this image of us, has harmed us to the point where mental health professionals, those close to us, and even ourselves, are unable to understand when we are dealing with depression or some other mental health problem.

There are a number of reasons as to why mental health awareness and services are lacking among Black women. Some of these reasons are a result of our own coping mechanisms, and some are societal standards that have been placed on us. If we are supposed to be strong, the supportive “Mammy” figure, and the “independent Black woman, who don’t need a man” how are we supposed to be able to admit to ourselves and others, that we need help? And, will we even be listened to when we admit it? The convoluted history of Black people and healthcare in the US, has lead to the perception that Black people, in general, feel less pain than white people. If we are perceived as feeling less physical pain, even by professionals, it is not a large leap in judgement to assume that our mental health pain is often overlooked, as well. These deeply ingrained racial biases in conjunction with the image of Black women being “strong” (along with less access to healthcare, overall due to socioeconomic issues) serve, at least in part, explain why so many of us are suffering from mental health issues in silence.

Part of self-care, a major part, is taking care of our mental health. As a Black woman who suffers from depression, I realize how empowering it can be to admit to having a problem and seeking help for it. I also found that once I began talking about it with other people in my life, I was met with the stories of others (both Black women and other women of color) who were going through depression or some other mental health issue as well. Unfortunately, many of us are suffering alone and it does not need to happen. We can be strong, independent, and fierce, while taking care of ourselves getting the help we need. I encourage all people, but especially women of color and Black women to learn about the symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders, and if needed, seek out the help you need. You will be better for it.

What is your experience with mental health and treatment? Have you felt that your diagnosis was impeded by your race and/or racial perception?

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Nobody, but nobody, Can make it out here alone

A week or so ago, I was reading a post written on The Atlantic, entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” by Stephen Marche. I began reading this article as part of a work assignment and became intrigued with it for a number of reasons. The part of the piece that intrigued me the most was the part in which Marche quotes NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, “Reams of published research show that it’s the quality, not the quantity of social interaction, that best predicts loneliness.” Marche goes on to explain that the typical things we believe that help to alleviate loneliness only do so if certain conditions are met. For example, for those who are married are only less lonely, if their partner is a trusted confidant. For those who have a strong faith or religious belief, loneliness is reduced if that person has an individual relationship with God, as opposed to believing in God as some far off entity. Reading these words only helped to solidify my personal beliefs on developing, deep, meaningful connections and relationships with others.

The words in this article made me think about how loneliness works in my own life and the times I feel less alone. As someone who is an introvert, by nature, I can spend quite a bit of time alone without being lonely. However, I am human and recognize I, just as anyone else have a deep need for closeness with others, be they family, friends, significant others, etc. As I have gotten older, I recognize the need not for superficial relationships and connection with others, but for real connections. The type of meaningful relationship where you may not talk to someone in a while, but you can pick up the phone or hang out with that person and spend hours talking about what’s going on in your life, and vent or even cry if you need to.

And, what does this have to do with self-care? Everything.

We all need people to reach out to. When the world is resting on our shoulders a little too heavily; when the words don’t seem to flow easily enough, and all we have is silence; or when it’s 3am and you’re in trouble or can’t sleep due to worry and stress, it’s essential to have people who you know will pick up the phone or at least won’t mind getting a voicemail, and will call you back at their earliest convenience. Unfortunately, too many of us either do not have these types of supports in our lives, or we are reluctant to open up and develop these types of relationships. But, these connections are necessary for our basic survival, let alone the ability to thrive in every aspect of our lives. Self-care is letting ourselves be vulnerable with others, who have proven they care. It is the ability to realize that, no matter how much we enjoy spending time alone, there are times when having close bonds and relationships with others, helps make life a little easier.

This week I was reminded of a poem by one of my favorite poets, Maya Angelou, that sums up what I am trying to say:

Alone

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Maya Angelou

Did you have a moment in your life when you realized the difference between being alone and being lonely? How do you cope with loneliness?

How to Care for Yourself When Life Gets Busy

I must admit, I am not someone who enjoys being busy. I have never liked the idea of multi-tasking, much less the necessity to engage in it. I am the type of person who does not even like having too many tabs open on my internet browser, it stresses me out. Unfortunately, for years, I thought this just meant I was lazy or not like other people, particularly women, who seem to be able to do two or three things at once. I felt as if I just needed to learn to multi-task better in order to keep up. We live in a society that not only appreciates, but encourages busyness in the form of multi-tasking. It’s almost sacrilege to say you are going to relax or do one thing at a time.

As I have gotten older, I have come to realize my lack of enthusiasm where multi-tasking and busyness is concerned, is not a personal flaw, but just how I am made. I am a hard worker, who puts in the time when I need to, but my preference is to work on one thing at a time, to have time to process it in its entirety, before moving on to the next. My lack of enjoyment in multi-tasking or busyness is not limited to work. I also do not like having numerous social engagements in the course of a week, or a weekend. On the rare occasions that I do engage in a good amount of social activity or work related projects, I try to ensure this period is followed by a few days of calmness and alone time, so I can recuperate. If you haven’t noticed, these are the traits of an introvert. While I do appreciate working and being productive and spending time with loved ones, for me, this has to be balanced with a fairly decent amount of down time. Luckily, over the course of the past few years, research is coming out that suggests our multi-tasking and busy culture is actually counterproductive.

Recent research on the idea of being able to handle two or more things at once is demonstrating that the perceived ability to multi-task is actually a myth. Surprisingly, studies are proving that we are not able to multi-task, save for the very rare occasion. Sounds like a lie? I thought so too, but according Dr. Susan Weinschenk’s Psychology Today article, by trying to multi-task you could actually be reducing productivity by up to 40%. Does trying to multi-task seem worth it now? Didn’t think so. Dr. Weinschenk’s article gives to good tips for helping those who feel the need to multi-task, yet want to ensure that their productivity remains intact. Some of Dr. Weinschenk’s suggestions, I had already began to implement in my own life and professional career, in order to better accommodate my needs.

One thing that helps me when I am feeling stressed trying to multi-task or just busy in general, is taking periodic breaks. Even back when I was working in an office setting, whenever I became overwhelmed, I would take a five minute trip to the office kitchen to make myself a cup of hot tea. Simply getting up and walking away from your desk for a few minutes can be helpful, and if you’re like me, sipping on warm tea can be very relaxing. Now that I am a freelancer, I still take breaks throughout the day, when things are busy and I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed. These mini-breaks help me to take a step back, decompress for a little bit, and come back to my work with a fresher frame of mind.

What are some ways you can take care of yourself when you are busy at work or with other obligations? Are you a fan of multi-tasking or have you never liked the idea? Do you feel multi-tasking makes you more or less productive?