Can we speak candidly, feminist activist to feminist activist? March was Mental Health Awareness month, yet Black women’s mental health is hardly given its deserved awareness. The infamous “strong Black woman” trope dehumanizes us by elevating our resilience to a superhuman level where help is seemingly never needed. Even when a Black woman overcomes this damaging trope, she faces the challenge of finding a therapist that can validate her lived experience. The combination of only 4% of psychologists being Black and societal stigma infringes on Black women’s equal access to quality mental health care being treated as a right.
Society’s expectation of our unwavering “strength” is a double-edged sword. While we need to be resilient in the face of a white supremacist, patriarchal world, this same endurance is weaponized against us by rendering our emotional capacity limitless. Dr. Cheryl Woods Giscombé’s Superwoman Schema Study on this topic has found that Black women are societally programmed to suppress our emotions, resist vulnerability, and refuse help. This is not strength; this is disregarding our humanity.
When we are taught that caregiving trumps our mental well-being, the overwhelming message is that we are not worthy of seeking help. We should somehow be stronger than the average human to brave our spiraling mental state alone. If we are not, that is our own failure and not society’s inability to protect or prioritize us. Dismantling this harmful trope begins with validating Black women’s humanity by acknowledging that our mounting stressors far exceed any human’s limitation on strength.
When we are finally ready to seek help, it becomes almost impossible to find a mental health professional who looks like us. The significance of having a culturally aware therapist cannot be understated. Black women that work with Black therapists have been shown to spend less time explaining cultural nuances and the violating omnipresence of racism that infiltrates our daily lives. There is a shared understanding when it is someone who resembles us sitting and nodding in the adjacent office chair. This knowingness encourages us to exhale and leave the “strong Black woman” heroine cape at the door. We can be vulnerable and, therefore, finally reimagine just how much our mental health matters.
Our mental health cannot survive being put on the back burner any longer. The trauma brought on from the wreckage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the constant violence against Black lives has stretched our mental capacity dangerously thin. From being frontline workers to being at the forefront of Black Lives Matter protests, the demands on Black women have only heightened. We cannot let our sanity be the ultimate sacrifice just to preserve the narrative that we are reliably unbreakable.
I am a Black woman. Yes, we are strong but no, we are not indestructible. Mental wellness is a right and until Black women’s mental health is equally prioritized, our cries for help will go unheard as society’s applause for our mythical “strength” grows louder and louder.
Ways to Take Action:
- Uplift Black Women’s Stories. Share the stories of Black women who are putting their mental health first, such as Naomi Osaka. These stories reiterate that Black women deserve to hold space for their emotions and that seeking help is not weakness.
- Share Credible Resources. Black therapist directories such as Therapy For Black Girls or Women of Color Therapy and the online wellness conversation with NOW President Christian Nunes are integral resources to help connect and bolster awareness for Black women’s mental health.
- Stop Using Strong as a Compliment. Language is powerful. When a Black woman is being vulnerable, thank her for telling her story. Do not uplift us to a godly pedestal by commenting on how strong we are.
Safiyyah Edwards, President’s Office Intern