The Woman-Womb: Removal of the Mule Image of Black Women and Health, Research and Mental Health

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

During the celebration of Women's History Month, WOCPSCN will hold a 4-part series regarding health issue and the African diaspora woman. This first-part series was a global lively disucssion regarding our participants' relatinshipship to surviving 2020 and its effects upon their mental and spiritual health. Added conversation was based on two journals that have written about black women's mental health and relatonship to being overtly constructed to take on many tasks.

Women's Mental Health in the African-American Community

From as young as five years of age, black girls are perceived as more adult-like and less innocent than their white female peers. This “girlhood, interrupted” is characterized by the belief that black girls are more independent, know more about adult topics, and need to be comforted and supported less than peers in their respective age groups. These perceptions can become generalized and create environments in which African-American women receive less support, nurturing and protection in our society. Sociopolitical factors such as poverty, exposure to crime, food insecurity and housing affordability, which African-Americans and women of all ethnicities are disproportionately more likely to experience, are additional pressures that affect mental health negatively. The cumulative effects of these stressors combined with historical trauma, gender inequality and racial prejudice can contribute to conditions that arise from chronic stress such as in anxiety, depression and high-risk behaviors such as substance abuse or unsafe sexual practices.

These early childhood experiences can have lasting impressions, which make the achievements of marginalized populations including ethnic minorities, women and people living with disabilities all the more noteworthy. Resilience has been a constant marker of the achievements of African-Americans throughout history in the United States. However, resilience alone is not enough. Many African-Americans turn to faith, friends, family and other social support systems during times of distress. But only about a quarter of African-Americans seek mental health treatment when in crisis, even though African-American adults are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress as adults; are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness in general as adults; and are more likely to attempt suicide as teens. Far too often in the black community, conversations about mental health are few and far between. We must re-examine how to best make accessible, retain, engage and support African-Americans individuals in the journey towards better mental health. By supporting legislation, destigmatizing mental health discussions, providing affordable, accessible, relevant and culturally competent treatment, we can all aim to close the treatment gap. More directly, a diversified workforce, which includes people of color in leadership positions in the field of psychological science and practice would help ensure that people and communities of color receive the services and healthcare they need and deserve. That is why this month we will celebrate black women who have been trailblazers and leaders in the field of psychology.

“We're Looked at as Superhuman”: How Racism Affects Black Women’s Mental Health

African Americans are as likely to experience mental illness as other Americans but more likely to get poor or no treatment. Black women are often left out of research studies and hesitant to obtain mental health care. There are many reasons for that, including racism, mental health stigma, and the history of providers using information against them. They may also have difficulty finding therapists who are Black or culturally competent. “The 'strong black woman concept' (implies that) we're able to handle all things and so sometimes clinicians—who may not be culturally competent—may also [believe that stereotype],” said Mia Moore Kirby, an assistant professor in social work and the Center for African American Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. “That’s not validating a person's experience, not empathizing with what's going on, and maybe minimizing their symptoms.” Some organizations and programs across the U.S., such as those described in this article, are working to destigmatize therapy and make culturally competent care more accessible to Black women.

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