Black Women Have Mental Health Concerns Too
As Black women, we are often referred to as strong. This defining quality reaches back generations as our ancestors withstood slavery, the civil rights movement, and a feminist revolution.
When we talk about strength – the power to resist force; defend and maintain - the idea of it challenges its real purpose. Black women’s experiences of suffering, struggle, and anger are masked. It’s a restrictive myth that takes an emotional and physical toll, and leaves many Black women fighting a lonely battle within.
I never saw my grandmother and mother rest. From sun up to sun down, they were always in service to others – cooking, cleaning, helping, and caring for everyone else. There was always something that had to be done. Neither of them took a night off from cooking dinner, or just took a walk in the evening. Even if there was something they were worried about or going through, they would never let it show.
I always observed never-ending busyness, stress, and sometimes struggle. As a result, I found myself behaving similarly. I didn’t ask for help or even give the impression I couldn’t trudge through my storms. I mimicked what I saw and became very good at it.
We have taken the chaos in our lives and normalized it. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s what Black women have passed on and collectively reinforced, generation after generation, perpetuating the strong Black woman stereotype. Society accepts this idea that we feel no pain, we don’t cry, we don’t need help.
Black women are taught to push through, keep going, and endure difficult times without complaint. Asking for help – or even believing that we’re deserving of it – is a sign of weakness and vulnerability that we’ve been taught we cannot afford.
More than 80 percent of Black mothers are the primary financial providers for their families. Black women are the most educated group in the country, making more money than their male counterparts. But they are usually the ones financially responsible in the household.
My wake-up call came in the form of burnout and chronic anxiety. I was physically not able to keep up. Years ago, while going through a painful divorce, I was also working full-time, studying for my graduate degree, and uncertain about my future. I didn’t want to go to work, but I pushed through, put on my mask, and pretended everything was fine.
I wasn’t. It's not enough to just pray about it, as many people will tell you to do. It goes much deeper than that. I was in a rabbit hole of my normalized chaos and couldn’t find my way out until I admitted to the harm I was causing myself.
I made a conscious commitment to practice self-care. I stopped saying yes to everyone and every opportunity. I started paying attention to my health. I started to remember things that bring me joy and made time to do them. I reminded myself that I am deserving of rest, with no guilt or shame. And I appreciate alone time.
These behaviors I had to learn on my own. What would have been the result if my grandmother and mother practiced them? I am doing the work daily and loving myself in the process.