The Strong Black Woman and Depression
Updated Thursday, May 28, 2020
Dealing with mental health issues in the Black community is extremely challenging because of the stigma associated with it. Because of this stigma and the fear of judgment and ridicule, Blacks suffer in silence. You would be hardpressed to find a group that suffers from depression at the level of Black women. According to extant data, women, regardless of race, are more likely to experience depression than their male counterparts. These same studies reveal that Black women are significantly more likely to experience depression than White women.
There are multitudinous factors that contribute to the disparity between Black and White women as it pertains to depression, but one of the most common and invasive influences is the idea of the strong Black woman. From a historical perspective, the Black woman has been forced to endure the unimaginable.
I have written about this phenomenon extensively (especially in my 19th book, Born in Captivity: Psychopathology as a Legacy of Slavery), but the current state of the Black community demands that we take an additional look at this dynamic to develop a more lucid perspicacity of the problem for the purpose of developing a long-term solution. To identify problems without seeking solutions is a meaningless endeavor — yet we see it far too often.
For as far back as you can trace history in this country, there has been an immeasurable emotional, and psychological burden levied on the Black woman. During slavery, she was violated by slave masters and White overseers. She had her husband and children sold away from her. And like Black men, she was beaten into submission when she resisted the demands of White slave owners.
Contrary to popular belief, things did not improve much for the Black woman after slavery. She still did not have a place in society. There was no secure environment for her to express her spiritual prowess and her emotional force. Over 246 years of slavery had conditioned the Black man to procreate and abandon his progeny (not always the case but far too often it was) — often leaving the woman with the burden of taking on both parenting roles.
I have no desire to excuse the Black man from his failures, but it is immensely important to understand causality if we ever intend on creating a cure.
Nevertheless, the Black woman has been derided, abandoned, and mishandled more than any other woman on this planet. For a Black man with an open heart and a keen eye, the plight of the Black woman is painfully visible.
“The most disrespected woman in America is the Black Woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black Woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black Woman” ~ Malcolm X
One of the problems that we have is that many Black men entertain this erroneous idea that acknowledging the plight and struggle of the Black woman somehow marginalizes and invalidates their own. We are not in competition with one another and should never forget this.
The truth is that the Black woman’s experiences in the United States have forced her to embrace a position of inner-strength — resulting in the myth of the Strong Black Woman. Am I saying that the Black woman is not exceptionally strong? Absolutely not! What I am saying is that she is not impervious to the psychological, spiritual, and emotional pressures of life. There is no exclusive hermetic barrier that encapsulates the Black woman as she navigates the labyrinthine corridors of a racial caste system that has chosen to ignore her plight.
It is not only our own who have been misguided by this myth of the Strong Black Woman. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from complications of childbirth than white women because medical professionals don’t take their complaints seriously.
More than 72 percent of Black mothers are single parents. This does not mean that 72 percent of Black mothers are completely alone in the parenting of their children — that is a misconception that needs addressing. What it does mean is that 72 percent of Black mothers are heading households. This means that the entire psychological and emotional burden of running the home falls on them. It also means that she is forced into roles that she is not designed to carry out.
Any time that you use a design for something other than what it was created for, you not only get diminished results but you negatively impact the ability to excel in the areas for which it was created. Everything in this world has gender harmony, including mammals, plants, sea life, protons, neutrons, and elections. The world is designed to function through the balance of both masculine and feminine energy. When the man is removed from the equation, the same level of stress is multiplied for the woman because much of it she is not designed to process and manage.
This disruption to the natural order leads to an identity crisis in which the Black woman believes she can do it all — she no longer needs a man. What she does not understand is that she is destroying herself. She is slowly committed spiritual suicide. Through psychosomatics, the added stress is wreaking havoc on her physical health.
Where there is no psychological and emotional release, depression is inevitable. The Strong Black Woman has become the new face of depression. She hides it well. Her voice is still strong and her gait is still majestic, but her light is dimming and her heart is weakening. Every day that she continues to pretend that she has it all together the darker things become.
When I first met my wife, Marion, it was in a professional capacity. She had come to me as a part of her healing process. She was a molestation and rape survivor, and so much more. She had done a great deal of the work already, but I like to believe I added something to the process. What I noticed is that she was anything but weak. She would definitely fall under the category of “Strong Black Woman,” but her strength did not inoculate her from the massive weight of the trauma she had experienced — much of which originated from those who should have been protecting her.
Fortunately for Marion, she sought help. Once our work was done, we both went our separate ways. By the time she came back into my life, she had grown and expanded so much. She had written her first book, Ghettos Forgotten Daughters — a book chronicling her life from trauma to healing to full recovery.
For my sisters that are bearing heavy burdens, it is important to understand your limitations. While the phrase Strong Black Woman definitely has a potent ring to it, there is nothing redemptive about burying yourself in darkness. There is nothing weak about seeking help.
To my brothers, I challenge you to take up the mantle of loving our Black women back to life. I don’t just mean your wife or better half, I mean every last Black woman on this planet should feel safer and more appreciated in your presence. Yes, I understand that you are facing your own challenges as you are forced to enter a hostile world daily and somehow perform. However, you must develop a luciferous perspective that allows you to see things from the perspective of our women. When we provide an environment in which our women can breathe, they will birth life into our visions and dreams through their spiritual wombs. However, if we continue to allow them to suffer alone and in silence, their spiritual wombs will continue atrophy and dry up.
We must work to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness in the Black community. We must promote positive mental health — encouraging one another to seek help when necessary. Being strong is not tantamount to invincibility — meaning that you must consider your health at all costs. There is a place that exists outside of the shadows of depression, but you must actively seek it. ~ Rick Wallace, Ph.D., Psy.D.
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