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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