Suffering in silence is not an unfamiliar concept to black women. We are taught above all else to be strong. Historically and presently our strength has been a necessity for survival. In being strong for ourselves, for everyone else, too many black women are walking through life unhealed.
There is a popular adage in the black community, “Black people don’t go to therapy, we go to church.” Seeking therapy is equated with being “crazy”. While we snicker at the thought of therapy, the men and women in our community are hurting.
Black women in particularly are dealing with a wide range of stresses that are so familiar it becomes a normal part of life. The constant promoted images of beauty being a stark contrast to what they see in the mirror, the demands of their careers, taking care of the family, heartbreaks, growing up without fathers, sexual abuse and strained parental relationships are only a few of the issues black women may be carrying with them daily. The adoption of the superwoman myth teaches black women to carry the burden, pray and keep being strong.
Rarely will anyone mention seeking a therapist because, after all, we can just go to church and come out a renewed woman.
With church being the central foundation of the black community it is understandable the conflict black women would have between their faith and seeking professional help.
But church is no substitute for healing when one is dealing with the number of societal and economical issues that affect black women’s mental health. Our refusal to really deal with the emotional affects of issues even predating to slavery, is only spilling over into other areas of our lives.
Mental health can also affect one’s physical health. With heart disease being the number one killer of black women, strokes and diabetes coming in as the third and fourth highest killer of black women, we cannot afford to ignore the mental or physical.
According to the Center for Disease Control, from 2003-2006, 53.3 percent of black women over the age of 20 were obese. Stress is one of the factors contributing poor eating habits, which lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions. It is my belief that if some black women were receiving therapy, other health issues would be resolved as well.
Psychological problems as a whole are not a black issue. In fact, according to the American Association of Suicidology, black women have the lowest rate of suicides per year in comparison to any other demographic. As of 2007, the most recent statistics available, there were 352 black female suicides in comparison to 6,623 white female suicides. But one cannot ignore the apparent stigma attached to mental health issues in the black community.
In August 2010, news broke that American Idol winner, Fantasia Barrrino, was in the hospital for attempted suicide. Jokes were made about Fantasia, articles were published and the chatter was loud in the black community about the stigma of mental health. People even dismissed her attempted suicide as a ploy for album sales. Instead of Fantasia taking the time to rest, get much needed professional help, her team’s solution was for Fantasia to throw herself in her career by continuing to promote the album and do shows.
Although Fantasia cannot be used as the poster child for the black community’s attitude toward mental health, it is very telling how very few people (at least from what we saw on her television show “Fantasia For Real”) suggested she get therapy. So she did what she knew best- threw herself back into her work.
If black women are going to continue to be the backbone of the family, graduating college at rates far surpassing black men, running companies and being everything for everybody, we’re going to have to take care of ourselves first.
This doesn’t mean you believe the nonsense the media will have you believe that something is inherently wrong with black women. There isn’t. But we were born into circumstances in this country unlike any other. And seeing a therapist about we’re dealing with on a day-to-day can only be beneficial.