Women in Leadership

Mental Health and the Black Woman – Part 1

PLEASE NOTE: This post is solely based on personal experience and opinion, and is in no way intended to provide any diagnostic or treatment advice. If you feel as if you are experiencing personal difficulties, you are encouraged to seek advice and treatment from a licensed professional. 

This post is probably one of the most difficult things I have ever written – God gives us tests in life in order for us to have a testimony. What someone neglected to tell me is that the testimony I am about to share nearly cost me my life.

There is a stigma that is rapidly growing in the black community. A stigma that is not widely discussed as it should be. An elephant that has unfortunately resided in many of our homes and families for generations that has been ignored or swept under the rug. It is a stigma that we like to keep “in the house,” as our big momma’s and elders would put it when something traumatic would happen to our aunties, cousins, or even our parents. It is an issue that must be addressed with the quickness.

The “elephant” in the room is Mental Illness.

According to the US HHS Office of Minority Health:

  • Adult Black/African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites.
  • Adult Black/African Americans living below poverty are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty.
  • Adult Black/African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites.
  • And while Black/African Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, Black/African Americans teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers (8.3 percent v. 6.2 percent).

Black/African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Black/African Americans are also twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

In the era we live in today where mass media has swallowed up our psych, we are seeing more and more of people “going crazy” than ever with the birth of social media. More and more, we are seeing people having mental breakdowns on Facebook live, reading meltdown tweets, and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness at our fingertips. I need not go into detail of the horror we all felt when our peaceful Easter Sunday meals and festivities was tragically interrupted with the live Facebook video that was circulated of an innocent man being murdered. Daily, we are seeing more and more suicides and homicides of people based on mental meltdowns. It is at a point now where we can no longer shake these incidents off. The state of mental health in the black community must be addressed.

Black women are the most vulnerable demographic when it comes to suffering from depression and anxiety. In fact, black women are the most undertreated group for depressive disorders, which can present a real detriment. The origins of black women and depression go back to slavery. As slaves, black women were in charge of “holding down the fort” at the plantations – they took care of the slave master’s home, raised their kids, gave birth to their own children and raised them, and deal with being sexually assaulted by the master, and having to conceal their emotions. The “Angry Black Woman” label and syndrome was largely birthed based on a lot of historical trials and tribulations we have had to endure, and continue to endure. Black women have had to carry more weights and stresses than anyone. Black women have more adversities to contend with than our white counterparts. We are now dealing with being the primary heads of our homes (nearly 70% of black households are headed by a single black woman), being behind socioeconomically (we still make $.62 of the working dollar according to the U.S. Department of Labor), and even though we are the most educated demographic in the nation (http://www.essence.com/2016/06/07/new-study-black-women-most-educated), we still have to fight to even be invited to the C-Suite wing of major corporations, thus making us top rank in the start-up business and entrepreneurial arenas. This in itself can cause anyone to go into a depressive state.

I was one of the 16% of black women who sought treatment for moderate clinical depression in 2014. It was one of those things that I too tried to sweep under the rug, and labeled as being stressed and exhausted. What I did not realize was because I kept sweeping my symptoms under the rug, I created a massive volcano that abruptly erupted and created havoc. It destroyed relationships. It cost me my career (at the time). It nearly took me out of here. I did not understand why I was feeling the way that I was feeling at the time. I suffered from extended periods of sadness and despair that would not go away. I would cry at the drop of a hat, have fits of rage, and lash out. I was incredibly cruel to those around me and careless with my words. It was by far the worst period of my life.

Tomorrow, I will discuss my experience with mental illness and how love, prayers, and seeking treatment healed me. Meanwhile, please feel free to leave your comments. Please Note: This is a public blog, so please be mindful about posting sensitive and personal information. All inappropriate and offensive comments will be deleted.

Namaste!

Deonna

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