She is physically stunning with a luscious designer wardrobe, a gorgeous million-dollar home, an expensive sports car, and brilliant diamond jewelry from her equally successful husband. This Black woman has everything. Including depression. African American women have long been known as the backbones of their families, the strong ones who keep the family and community together. But Black women, in part because of pressures to be perfect in that traditional role, also suffer disproportionately from depression.
Additionally, Black women, in general, endure a higher degree of trauma from sexual abuse and poverty than others. But they are also victims of long-term racial abuses, such as everyday micro-aggressions, regardless of their financial status. Put that all together and you have anxiety-fraught women, regardless of how fortunate they may seem. “Trauma in the form of racism can be directly or indirectly experienced,” explained Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett, author of “Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Women’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic, and Fear”. “Driving while Black, shopping while Black, and everyday racial microaggressions are direct examples of racial trauma.” Even the country’s racially polarized political climate has had many women avoiding the news, feeling hopeless, and fearing that current efforts to dismantle civil rights gains are adding underlying layers of anxiety to their ongoing distress. “In workplaces, college, and professional school settings around the country, Black women often find themselves the only one or the first one,” Dr. Neal-Barnett continued. “In these situations, they have been taught that they have to be twice as good to go half as far, that they are representing the race and that they are being watched more closely than their white counterparts; beliefs that are not necessarily inaccurate. These beliefs coupled with the Strong Black Woman image increase risk for social anxiety.”
“…They have been taught that they have to be twice as good to go half as far…” Statistically, Black women are more likely to have depression than white women and African American men, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Researchers blame poverty, a high rate of single motherhood, disproportionate physical abuse, and poor access to good medical care. The rate of sexual assault among Black women is 3.5 times higher than that of any other American group, and many times it’s never reported, keeping those damaging secrets buried and untreated, often for years.
Many African Americans traditionally have felt that mental illness is shameful, taboo. There’s a special place in hell for a person considered “crazy”. As a consequence, few African Americans will admit that they need mental health care and therefore don’t seek it out. Some may quietly pursue the guidance of close friends, family members, or the church, but consider professional help just something white people do. But to medical professionals, mental health treatment is as important as treating heart disease or diabetes. “As entrepreneurs, mothers, wives, daughters, and friends, sometimes it’s our very success, however, that causes us to bury our pain deep under our education, our titles and professional credentials, our expensive make-up, designer clothes, and late-model luxury cars,” said author Lisa Brown Alexander in Madamenoire.com “We cannot and will not let anyone – even our closest loved ones – see us sweat, or cry, or be lost.” She said she hopes that if more successful black women speak out about mental illness, all that will change.