I came across a HuffPost article that described the discrepancy between rates of depression in black women and their access of mental health treatment. A CDC study quoted in the article leads to the conclusion that while black women are more likely than both their male and white counterparts to suffer from depression, they are less likely to see mental health services and remain in treatment. The article notes several factors that might contribute to this phenomenon: lack of or not enough insurance, shame, lack of knowledge about what depression is, stigma, and the idealized “strong black woman.”
The article includes this poignant quote from Melissa Harris- Perry:
Through the ideal of the strong black woman, African-American women are subject not only to historically rooted racist and sexist characterizations of black women as a group but also a matrix of unrealistic interracial expectations that construct black women as unshakeable, unassailable and naturally strong.
I have to tell you, those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I have spent my whole adult life thinking and learning about mental health, this sounded like me. I have struggled with what it would mean to seek help for myself, even as I spent my days providing that help to others. How many of us have felt the pressure to be “unshakeable, unassailable, and naturally strong”? How many of us have been screaming on the inside and smiling on the outside? We pride ourselves on being superwomen, and get pats on the back when we never have to ask anyone for help. I know it isn’t all of us, but I also know it’s far too many. It might not be you, but it might be that girlfriend that you see every once in a while, and you keep thinking, something just isn’t right. It might be your sister, who always looks run down and tired, but always says she’s “ok.” This post isn’t just about mental health. This is about us taking care of ourselves, and each other. If you know something isn’t right, ask about it. If you see that a friend looks down, don’t look the other way. You might be the help she needs. Maybe it is depression and maybe she needs a therapist. Maybe she needs a sista-friend that she can’t be honest with when everything isn’t peachy. Maybe she needs a sounding board where she can say “This is hard sometimes!”
What I know, is that as long as we try to be 24/7 superwomen, we are in the fight of our lives. Despite our greatest efforts, we are human beings. Human beings get worn out when they don’t care for themselves. Human beings get depressed when they spend all their energy caring for others ,and have none left to care for themselves. A while ago I taught a class on self-care for ministers, and I used these two images to show the difference between pouring out endlessly into others (left), and the health of caring for yourself while you care for others (right). In the left picture, you can see that eventually, the pitcher will be empty. In the right picture, you can see that because they flow into each other, none of the vessels will run dry. Which one of these is you?
This issue is not just for black women, it’s for all of us! For me, this is a daily battle. I feel the pressure of needing to be a professional woman, take care of my household, be active in my church, and all the other things that I do. I love to do these things, and if I do those things that I love without caring for myself, eventually I will end up empty and do nothing well. So for me, this means I owe it to myself and the people I care about to take intentional time to look inward and take care of me. It makes me a better wife, daughter, therapist, friend, teacher, and community member. What I do for me depends on what I need- sometimes it’s just a girls’ night, or making myself go to the gym because I know afterward I’ll feel like I new woman. Sometimes it’s letting myself be cared for without guilt, and sometimes it’s going to see a therapist. Let’s stop wearing fatigue like a medal of honor. Let’s stop cursing our humanness as weakness. Let’s strive for wholeness, wellness, and peace!
Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.