Black Women's Mental Health: Exploring The Challenges of Today & How To Support Mental Health

By Sydney Wiederhold|Updated August 17, 2022

Mental health is a part of everyday life no matter who you are. The state of your mind affects how you think, feel, handle stress, treat others, behave, and communicate. Black women in particular can face unique challenges when navigating mental healthcare, turning it into a complicated process. Many Black women are taught to be strong and resilient despite the cost to their mental well-being. However, it’s clear that what’s more important than being strong is finding adequate mental healthcare support when it’s needed. By addressing the inequalities and disparities in the mental healthcare system, society can continue creating a more inclusive environment in which Black women can get the care they need.  

Experiencing Mental Health Challenges?

Black Women and Intersectionality 

For Black women, the intersectionality of being a woman and a person of color can exacerbate the mental health obstacles they have to get past. Specifically, they face something known as gendered racism. Not only do they face discrimination as a person of color, but on top of it, they’re discriminated against for being a woman. This makes them particularly vulnerable to being marginalized. 

The intersectionality of being a Black woman makes their experience unique because they have two identities that could be working against them in any given situation, whether at school, at work, or out in public. These women face challenges day in and day out, often without the right support. 

Challenges Faced by Black Women 

Black women face unique challenges in their careers, educational pursuits, and everyday lives.  Gender bias and racial discrimination are common in the workplace, especially when they try to advance to higher positions. Equal pay and treatment are often hard to achieve as well. In the educational field, Black women have to deal with hostile work environments, unsupportive mentors, and unequal playing fields. In everyday life, Black women deal with racism, healthcare inequalities, poverty, lack of resources, sexism, and more. 

Black Women and Mental Health

The statistics and research about minority mental health are both disheartening and sad. Black women are no exception. For Black women, mental health struggles are common; and, when they do occur, they’re usually more persistent. Around 16% of Black people report having a mental illness, and 22.4% of those cases are considered serious mental illnesses.  Black adults are more likely than White adults to report experiencing symptoms like emotional distress, hopelessness, and sadness that persist over time. 

Black anxiety in particular is on the rise, as is depression. Research on Black women and depression shows that poverty often plays a major role. When women aren’t able to provide for their children or can’t access the resources they need, they can become depressed. Depression can create a lack of motivation, which often worsens their situation. As a result, anxiety can develop. The cycle of anxiety and depression can be hard to overcome without the right support, which Black women don’t always have access to. Diagnoses of depression in African American females are less likely. Instead, they are more likely to be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. This remains true for other kinds of mental illnesses as well. 

Disparities in Black Women’s Mental Health Care

Although Black women experience mental illness like anyone else, they often don’t seek help as others do. White populations seek help at a higher rate because they have the resources and deal with less stigma for doing so. Among Black adults, though, only one in three gets the mental health care they need. When they do get care, it’s often not as high of quality. Misdiagnoses are common and many aren’t ever diagnosed at all. Providers may be discriminatory toward their Black patients or lack the capacity to understand their unique needs.  

These disparities can be explained by a variety of factors including systemic inequalities in the healthcare system, a history of maltreatment toward Black people in healthcare, and institutional racism. In addition, Black women face poverty at a higher rate, often lack the resources they need, and receive less education about mental health. However, stigma remains the biggest barrier Black women face in seeking mental health care. 

Supporting Black Women’s Mental Health 

Moving forward, several inequalities in the healthcare system need to be addressed for Black women to be able to receive the care they need and deserve. More representation is needed among mental healthcare providers so that minorities can feel seen, heard, and understood. Providers also need more education regarding the needs of Black women and minorities in general. 

It’s also important to take steps to reduce the stigma surrounding Black women and mental illness. Many are hesitant to seek help because of the fear of judgment from friends and family members. Some even judge themselves for needing to get support. They believe they should be able to get better on their own, that they just need to be stronger, or that it’s “all in their head.” Research shows that many Black people end up masking their symptoms of mental illness instead of seeking help for them. This leaves them coping on their own and can make their condition even worse over time. 

Overall, Black women face everyday inequalities in society that put them at a disadvantage. Other factors that need to be addressed are systemic racism, poverty, and lack of awareness about mental health. By working toward fixing each of these issues, mental health care can become more accessible for Black women. It’s important to fix these disparities in the system since Black women need and deserve help just as much as anyone else.

Taking Control of Your Mental Health

Black women are often subject to racism, discrimination, and microaggressions on a regular basis. Each of these instances can build upon the others and become exhausting and overwhelming, especially to one’s mental health. Below are some strategies on how to deal with women's mental health issues, specifically from a Black woman’s perspective. 

  • Read books and listen to podcasts: Books and podcasts from the Black perspective can help you feel less alone and more understood. It can be relaxing to sit and read a book and be a great break for your mind. Plus, these resources may provide you with helpful advice and tips for staying mentally healthy. 

  • Let yourself feel. Recognize that you don’t always have to be strong. It’s okay to be hurt, exhausted, or vulnerable. In fact, being vulnerable about how you’re feeling is one of the best ways to heal and move forward. Lean on your friends and family members and let yourself be loved as you are. Letting yourself be cared for can be a great reminder that you’re only human and that you don’t have to have it together all the time. The world can be harsh, but your loved ones can remind you of who you are and why you matter. 

  • Take time to rest. Western culture in particular emphasizes the importance of constantly hustling and accomplishing the next thing on your to-do list. However, know that it’s okay and necessary to take breaks every once in a while. Even if it’s just five minutes a few times a day, those moments to collect your thoughts and recharge are valuable. 

Putting yourself first isn’t selfish. In fact, it’s something you must do to maintain positive mental health. While it’s helpful to get others involved, particularly mental health professionals, you might not have the resources to do so, or you may not feel ready for therapy. The tips above can be helpful whether or not you’re seeing a therapist. They can help get you through the day and remind you of why self-care is so important. 

Experiencing Mental Health Challenges?

How BetterHelp Can Support You

Navigating the world as a Black woman can be difficult, especially when facing unique obstacles. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that offers assistance for a wide variety of concerns, problems, and needs. Once you sign up, you’ll get matched with a qualified, caring therapist with whom you can meet weekly. Using a phone, tablet, or computer, simply choose how you’d like to connect and get started. 

BetterHelp allows you to meet over a phone call, video chat, or by sending messages back and forth in a chatroom. This chatroom is open to you 24/7 so you can send a message whenever you need to. The ease, affordability, and convenience of online therapy make it an ideal option for people everywhere. If it sounds like something that could work for you, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

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