Supporting Black women’s mental health: Exploring challenges

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Mental health can be essential to everyday life, no matter who you are. The state of your mind affects how you think, feel, handle stress, treat others, behave, and communicate. However, Black women may face unique challenges when navigating mental healthcare. 

Many Black women learn from family, community, and society that reaching out for help is not an option, despite the cost to their mental well-being. However, finding adequate mental health support that is culturally, racially, and socially applicable can offer many benefits. By addressing the inequalities and disparities in the mental healthcare system, society can continue creating a more inclusive environment where Black women can more easily obtain care. 

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Black women face a unique set of challenges

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 may face what is known as gendered racism. Many Black women face discrimination as a person of color and as a woman, and these two identities may combine to cause further discrimination. This intersectionality makes Black American women particularly vulnerable to social marginalization. 

The intersectionality of being a Black woman can be unique because these two identities are often associated with negative associations of implicit bias in any situation, whether at school, at work, or in public. Women in this community may face challenges daily without proper support or guidance from people in their lives. 

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 alongside white women and men. Equal pay and treatment are often hard to achieve. Research indicates that, in education and professional life, Black women are often confronted with hostile work environments, unsupportive mentors, and unequal playing fields. In everyday life, African American 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 Black women's mental health can feel disheartening. For Black women, mental health struggles are common --- when they do occur, they may be more persistent. Around 16% of Black people report having a mental illness, and 22.4% of those cases are considered severe. Black adults are also less likely than white adults to report experiencing symptoms like emotional distress, hopelessness, and sadness that persist over time, even if they are experiencing them.

Research on Black women and depression shows that poverty often plays a significant role in developing symptoms. Depression can incite a lack of motivation, which may worsen the impacts of poverty. As a result, anxiety may develop. Receiving a diagnosis may not be available for many Black women due to a lack of beneficial and culturally sensitive care in their community or locale. Instead, they may be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. 

Disparities in mental healthcare for Black women

Although African American women experience mental illness, they often don't seek help. White populations seek help more often because they often have greater resources and experience less stigma. Among Black adults, one in three gets the mental health care they need. When they do get care, it may not be high quality. Misdiagnoses are common, and many Black women experience discrimination or difficulty finding a provider that understands their experiences and unique needs. 

Various factors, including systemic inequalities in the healthcare system, a history of maltreatment toward Black people in healthcare, and institutional racism, can explain these health disparities. In addition, African American women face poverty at a higher rate, often lack the resources they need, and receive less education about mental health. However, stigma remains the most significant barrier Black women face in seeking mental healthcare. 

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Supporting Black women’s mental health

Many Black women advocate for the inequalities in the healthcare system to be addressed to receive the care they need and deserve. Mental healthcare providers and primary care providers often need more representation so that women of color can feel seen, heard, and understood. Providers may also benefit from more education regarding the needs of Black women and people of color in general. 

It can also be beneficial to take steps to reduce the stigma surrounding Black women's mental health. Awareness months are commemorated yearly for Black communities, including Black History Month. Many hesitate to seek help because of the fear of judgment from friends and families. Some may also judge themselves for seeking support or believe they should be able to get better on their own. Research shows that many Black individuals end up masking their symptoms of mental illness instead of seeking help for them. This action may leave them coping on their own and can exacerbate symptoms over time. 

Overall, Black women face everyday societal inequalities that put them at a disadvantage. Other factors that can be addressed are systemic racism, poverty, and lack of awareness about mental health. Remedying these disparities in the system can ensure Black women receive the support they require. 

How to care for your mental health as a Black woman

Black women are often subject to racism, discrimination, and microaggressions regularly. Each of these instances can build upon the others and become exhausting and overwhelming, especially for Black women’s mental health. Below are some strategies to cope with women's mental health issues.

Read books and listen to podcasts by Black authors

Books and podcasts from the Black perspective may help you feel less alone and more understood in your experiences. Sitting and reading a book can be relaxing and provide a break for your mind, and you may be able to listen to a podcast while you drive or cook. These resources may also provide helpful advice and tips for staying mentally healthy in a way that feels relevant to you. 

Let yourself feel 

Recognizing that you don't have to be strong for everyone else may be valuable. It's okay to feel hurt, exhausted, or vulnerable. Being vulnerable about how you feel also has health benefits. One study found that suppressing emotions can cause physical and mental health struggles. When you are open about your feelings, including yourself, you may feel relieved from releasing your emotions. 

Lean on your friends and family members and allow yourself to be loved as you are. Letting yourself feel cared for can remind you that you're human and don't have to be put together constantly. 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 constantly hustling and accomplishing the next task on your to-do list. Know that it can be okay and necessary to take breaks occasionally. Those moments to review your thoughts and recharge may be valuable, even for five minutes a few times a day. 

Putting yourself first isn't selfish. For many people, it is essential for maintaining positive mental health. While getting others involved, including mental health professionals, may be helpful, you might not have the resources to do so or feel unprepared for therapy. In these cases, practice self-care as much as possible until you're confident in reaching out for support. You might also contact a local organization or non-profit dedicated to rights and resources for Black women. 

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Black women face a unique set of challenges

Counseling options for Black women 

Navigating the world as a Black woman can be difficult when facing unique obstacles. However, you don't have to do it alone. If you're concerned about reaching out to an in-person therapist or want more control over the type of therapy you receive, online counseling through a platform like BetterHelp can connect you with a BIPOC or culturally sensitive therapist. 

Once you sign up, you'll get matched with a qualified, caring therapist with whom you can meet weekly based on your preferences. You can also change your therapist anytime if you don't connect with them. Online counseling allows you to meet over a phone call, video chat, or live chat session. Additionally, your chat room is open 24/7 so you can send messages to your therapist as needed. 

Online therapy has proven effective in treating various mental health conditions for Black women. Black women are disproportionately impacted by poor sleep, for example, which is linked to depression and depressive symptoms. Internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) was found to be highly effective in improving insomnia among Black women researchers at Harvard Medical School. For African American adults, telehealth interventions have shown efficacy in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, considerably more research may be needed to understand online therapy treatments and their effectiveness regarding mental health conditions experienced within the Black community.

Takeaway

Therapy is a personal experience; not everyone will go into it seeking the same results. Knowing that there are resources available and that you deserve support – as a human being and specifically as a Black woman- can ensure that you receive the most out of online therapy, regardless of your specific goals. Whether you’re seeking help with daily stressors or for another mental or behavioral health issue, you can take the first step by contacting a therapist or signing up with an online platform for further guidance and compassionate support.
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