Black women face significant disparities in mental health care. Understanding why these differences occur requires an appreciation for not only the multiple roles that Black women play in society but also for the racial and social injustices they have historically faced.
Notably, the outlook for Black women often depends on the perspective. Some mental health providers believe that they are some of the most disadvantaged people in the United States, often simultaneously experiencing racism, sexism, and, at times, financial inequality. Others believe that this same concept makes Black women one of the most resilient groups around. Both may be true in different settings; consequently, it is important to navigate these concepts carefully to understand the state of mental health of Black women and to optimize treatment outcomes.
This is the time for women of color to really double down on their mental health — especially since emotional stress can weaken the immune system and take a toll on the body. But finding mental health support that centers the Black experience and your individual needs can be a struggle. There are many possible barriers, some of the major ones being: the cost (therapy without insurance can be expensive), and the stigma.
“There’s this perception that if you go talk to a mental health provider that you’re crazy,” says therapist Nettie Jones. “You know, you have to be this strong Black woman who’s holding up and supporting everybody else.”
But what if “strength” means being held in a space where you feel safe?
Stigma in Disparities
Since women experience depression at rates twice that of men, society may expect the percentage of Black women receiving care to mirror that of White women. However, Black women are only about half as likely to seek care. Why these numbers are so different needs to be explored.
Jones says we have to work to reduce the stigma faced by people experiencing a mental illness.
“You have to have the uncomfortable conversations,” Jones said. “The more we talk about it, the more it becomes what they call kitchen talk. We’re okay to talk about Uncle Bubba or Aunt Sue who has diabetes or hypertension, but we don’t want to talk about our loved ones who are struggling with problems as it relates to mental health. And so the more we talk about it, the more we normalize the conversation.”
Historically, studies have shown that Black individuals are less likely to seek (and subsequently accept) mental health care, secondary to concerns regarding stigma.
“We’ve got to listen. As a mom, oftentimes we’re challenged with, ‘Is this typical teenage behavior? Is this defiance, or is this something else?’ And sometimes it’s a fine line, but if we can get the medical professionals or the mental health professional to just kind of chime in and be able to assess those situations then we can better equip our, our children and ourselves to help them live a very productive life,” she said.