Be strong, stay confident, and habitually maintain outward perfection. These principles embody an image of an African American woman in the eyes of society. African American women are constantly expected to be strong and successful, representing their community and race in a lot of male-dominated spaces. This constant idea of remaining perfect and ultimately being a representation for an entire race in uncomfortable spaces can have an immense mental strain.
This mental strain is where many run into a problem. The idea of maintaining perfection and providing adequate representation outweighs mental health. Many do not acknowledge that there may be an underlying problem: depression. African American women are twice as likely to experience depression than men. They are also half as likely to get help compared to their White colleagues. When looking at these facts, you wonder where the root of the problem is that is causing numerous negative effects. The idea surrounding mental health among the Black community is where I believe the problem primarily stems from.
Mental illness is often a taboo word in Black communities. The African American community has a longstanding history of perseverance and adaptability. Many African American families instill these values demonstrated by their ancestors into their children, and the chain continues. The weight that African ancestors had to bear is considered immeasurable to anything anyone could experience today. So, when someone has a habitual feeling of sadness affecting their quality of life, they are met with invalidation. This is because their ancestors endured much more. It is labeled as a sign of weakness, an area that needs to be strengthened.
Mental toughness is also a value that many African American families teach. So, if a woman does not understand why she is sad all the time, her initial reaction is to do what she was taught to do from a young age. Toughen up and brush it off. That type of response to a problem can have detrimental effects on your mental health. In the African American community, the idea that you may have a mental problem can be translated into being crazy. Having to get help from a therapist is often seen as unnecessary. After all, your ancestors went through hell and back. Why can’t you handle a “small” problem on your own?
The invalidating or judging of someone’s mental issue can often send them spiraling deeper into the depths of the problem. When you sit by and tell them to “brush it off,” they carry a great burden. This type of behavior is precisely why African American females are half as likely to get help with depression than their White counterparts; they want to maintain their image. But, constantly trying to contain something you do not know how to deal with will have explosive results later on. This longstanding stigma of mental health issues among the Black community has become a handicap to African American women seeking help.
However, the problem of seeking effective help is not always because of the stigma. Low-income communities, where a high number of African Americans reside, do not often have an adequate source of health care. In other cases, when dealing with stressful situations, a lot of African American individuals turn to their religious leaders. While this is not a bad idea, they may not realize they need specialized care from someone with extensive knowledge of what they’re going through. Someone who can help them improve their quality of life.
With all this information in mind, the question is, how do we dismantle this archaic stigma and evolve towards a community that acknowledges mental health issues with importance? I believe the key is education and better access to health care. If we begin educating African American kids about various mental health issues, their symptoms, and when to get help, they would understand their feelings. They would also be able to recognize when they need help. Additionally, this would encourage getting help and foster a healthier approach to dealing with these issues. While also slowly decreasing the invalidation of mental health problems. When you teach kids from a young age that it is okay to constantly feel sad and encourage them to ask for help, you help grow a confident and mentally healthy individual.
This is where better access to healthcare comes into play. If the African American community learns about mental health issues like depression, they will need an accessible and affordable place in their community. Installing at minimum one facility in low-income African American communities, which have the necessary tools to equip residents with, would decrease the problem rapidly. When African American communities understand the validity of mental health issues and have proper access to adequate healthcare, the immense rates of depression among African American women, and other mental health issues would decrease.
Dismantling this detrimental stigma will take time and a combined effort. But, I have no doubts that it can be done. When African American communities start to move away from this stigma, the entire community will be improved. Moreover, the quality of life for many individuals will become radically changed. Strong, confident, and fierce; all things Black women are and even more so when they have the courage to speak up about mental health problems and seek help.