Being a “Superwoman” may feel powerful, but it can have its drawbacks.
Depression is the most common mental health condition worldwide. It can affect people from all walks of life, cultures, and historical experiences.
And despite stigmas surrounding mental health in Black communities, depression is as prevalent in Black women as other women.
Still, it’s not uncommon for Black women to feel the need to muster up the strength to fight through these feelings alone or to ignore them altogether.
If you’re a Black woman living with depression, you’re not alone. And it’s OK to seek help if you need it.
Black women are often expected to possess unlimited strength in the face of stressful life events.
The narrative of the “strong Black woman” can make you feel pressured to “get over it” and push through, regardless of the toll this can take physically and mentally.
But the truth is Black women do live with depression.
In fact, according to the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the number of Black women who report feelings of depression is slightly higher than white women.
- 3.9% of Black women report feelings of sadness compared to 2.9% of white women
- 2.4% of Black women report feelings of hopeless compared to 1.9% of white women
- 1.8% of Black women report feelings of worthless compared to 1.6% of white women
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health OMH, about 10% of Black women feel like “everything is an effort” compared to 6% of white women who feel the same way.
These numbers point to a growing crisis in Black women’s mental health. Lowering these numbers starts with understanding depression and what it really is.
Depression is more than just being sad. While sadness can pass relatively quickly, depression can last for days. It can cause a variety of symptoms that often last 2 weeks or longer.
Some common ones include:
- feelings of loneliness or sadness
- lack of energy
- feelings of hopelessness
- feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- unusual sleeping schedule (getting too much or not enough sleep)
- unusual eating habits (eating too much or too little)
- difficulty concentrating or focusing
- thoughts of suicide or death
Many people who live with depression can manage their symptoms with treatment — which is often a combination of therapy and medication.
- Environmental: Stressful life events — such as lower socioeconomic backgrounds, abuse, or trauma — might increase the likelihood of depression.
- Genetic: Some mental health conditions — like depression — run in families, suggesting there might be a link between genetics and mental health.
- Biological: Physical changes and certain medications or medical conditions might increase the chance of depression.
- Psychological: The way you approach certain situations might make you more vulnerable to depression. For instance, if you’re prone to getting upset easily or lose patience quickly, you might be more likely to have depression.
Other unique factors that contribute to depression in Black women include:
- exposure to racial trauma
- challenging life circumstances due to sexism and racism
On average, Black women face many disparities in healthcare spaces. Some of these include:
- lack of access to quality healthcare
- higher rates in chronic diseases
- higher maternal mortality rates
- higher blood pressure and heart conditions
Many of these disparities are either complicated or directly impacted by racial discrimination within and outside of healthcare systems.
Depression in Black women often goes unnoticed because of the stigma surrounding mental health conditions in Black communities.
Black women are expected to be fearless and strong, to appear as if they can survive any stressful situation without help. They mask their emotions at home and at work. They often talk to others in their daily lives who don’t understand their experiences or show empathy for them.
The idea of the strong Black woman has been passed down through generations and the idea that anything outside of strength is a sign of weakness.
Throughout history, Black women have displayed a strength that seemed almost supernatural.
For example, women such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth not only survived and escaped their enslavement but also returned to free other enslaved Africans in America, too.
These stigmas and stereotypes may often prevent Black women from asking for help. Instead, they stay silent or use self-reliance as coping strategies to ease their depression or anxiety.
But studies show that these types of coping methods — along with the negative attitudes around seeking help from mental health professionals — can make symptoms worse.
Depression can oftentimes co-occur with other mental health conditions.
One of the most common co-occurring conditions is anxiety disorder — where people react to certain situations and thoughts with intense fear or terror. In fact, it’s estimated that about 60% of people with anxiety also have symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- panic (may include increased heart rate, shortness of breath, chest tightness, dizziness, sweats, or tingling extremities)
- racing thoughts
- tension in the muscles
- memory loss
- feelings of worry
- trouble concentrating
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Depression and anxiety can feel overwhelming, but both are common and treatable conditions. However, to treat these disorders, it’s important to dispel the common myths about depression in Black people, such as:
- We can pray away our symptoms. According to a
2016 study, Black people are more likely to use hoping and praying as a coping mechanism for pain than white people. While prayer might be helpful, also consider seeking additional help for mental health issues that are impacting your daily life.
- Mental health issues are a sign of weakness. The “strong Black woman” narrative often makes Black women ashamed of seeking help, fearing that they’ll appear weak to friends, family, or co-workers. But mental health issues are common in general,
even more soin Black people.
- Black children don’t feel depression or anxiety. It’s important to remember that Black teens and girls can be depressed, too. In fact, Black girls in grades 9-12 were 60% were more likely than others to attempt suicide in 2019 than white girls of the same age.
If you need help, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional. You can even find a therapist or licensed professional who understands the complexities Black women face daily and have the cultural competency to address them.
You can start by talking with someone you trust or a primary care doctor. They might be able to recommend someone, or you can try one of these organizations dedicated to providing mental health and wellness to Black women.
- Therapy for Black Girls
- DRK Beauty
- Dear Black Women Project
- Association of Black Psychologists
- Black Therapists Rock
- National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network
- LGBTQ Therapists of Color
- Melanin and Mental Health
- Inclusive Therapists
If a telehealth option is better for you, consider online therapy.
As a Black woman, you don’t have to be strong all the time. It’s OK to put away your Superwoman cape and take care of yourself.
It’s natural to feel stressed, anxious, and even sad sometimes. These feelings don’t make you weak, and neither does seeking treatment when these feelings become overwhelming.
In fact, just saying “I need help” shows more strength than not saying anything at all.