Black Women's Mental Health: Exploring Challenges & How To Support Mental Health
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. 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 more easily obtain the care they need.
Black Women And Intersectionality
For Black women, the intersectionality of being a woman and a person of color can create unique mental health obstacles. 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 Black women particularly vulnerable to social marginalization.
The intersectionality of being a Black woman makes their experience unique because they have two identities that are often associated with negative associations of implicit bias 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.
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 Black women strive to advance to higher positions. Equal pay and treatment are often hard to achieve, as well. In the educational field, Black women are often confronted with hostile work environments, unsupportive mentors, and unequal playing fields. In everyday life, Black women experience racism on the macro and micro levels, healthcare inequalities, poverty, lack of resources, sexism, and other systems of inequality.
Black Women And Mental Health
The statistics and research about minority mental health are disheartening . 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 than white adults to report experiencing symptoms like emotional distress, hopelessness, and sadness that persist over time.
Black anxiety, in particular, is , as is depression. Research on Black women and depression shows that poverty often plays a major role. Depression can create a lack of motivation, which often worsens their situation. As a result, anxiety can develop. 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 generally have greater access to resources and experience 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 in quality. Misdiagnoses are common and many Black women 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. Yearly, awareness months are being commemorated for our fellow Black men and women out there, one of which is Black History Month. Many are hesitant to seek help because of the fear of judgment from friends and families. Some even judge themselves for seeking support. They may believe they should be able to get better on their own, that they just need to be stronger, or that mental health challenges are “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 exacerbate their condition 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. It’s important to remedy 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 for one’s mental health. Below are some strategies on how to cope 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. Sitting and reading a book can be relaxing and provide a much-needed break for your mind. These resources may also provide helpful advice and tips for staying mentally healthy.
Let yourself feel: Recognize that you don’t always have to be strong for everyone else. It’s okay to feel 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 families and allow yourself to be loved as you are. Letting yourself feel cared for can be a great reminder that you’re 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 emphasizes the importance of constantly hustling and accomplishing the next thing on your to-do list. Know that it’s okay and necessary to take breaks every once in a while. Even if it’s just for five minutes a few times a day, those moments to review 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 feel unprepared for therapy. The tips above can be helpful regardless if you’re seeing a therapist. They can help get you through the day and remind you why self-care is important.
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, challenges, 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.
Online therapy has proven effective in treating Black women for a broad range of mental health conditions. Black women are disproportionately impacted by poor sleep, for example, which is linked to depression. Internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) was found to be highly effective for improving insomnia among Black women by researchers at Harvard Medical School. For African American adults, in general, telehealth interventions have shown efficacy in treating both anxiety and depression. The consensus is that considerably more research is needed to understand online therapy treatments and their effectiveness with regard to mental health conditions experienced within the Black community.
Therapy is a personal experience, and not everyone will go into it seeking the same things. Knowing that there are resources available and that you are deserving of support – as a human being and specifically as a Black woman -- can ensure that you will get the most out of online therapy, regardless of what your specific goals are. Take the first step in getting matched with a compassionate, licensed online therapist today by completing an initial questionnaire on BetterHelp.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Which Societal/Environmental Factors Most Affect Black Women?
Black women are affected physically and mentally by a variety of societal and environmental factors. Some of these include limited availability of education, lower quality healthcare, more exposure to poverty, discrimination, and more. Each of these can negatively affect one's mental, emotional, and physical health. Further, when Black women want or need to seek professional care and support, they often don’t receive as high of quality care. These disparities are the result of discrimination, bias, racism, systemic inequalities, and more.
How Likely Are Black Women To Seek Help?
Mental health does not discriminate along racial lines or any other identity marker. Although many Black women have mental conditions or problems they need support for, they are half as likely to seek help compared to their white peers. The reasons for this disparity vary but can be attributed to stigma, lack of resources, financial issues, discrimination in the healthcare system, and lower quality care. Since Black women are less likely to seek help for problems they’re facing, they usually struggle in silence for longer periods of time than others do.
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