Are struggles with outside perception and the need to be seen as strong and resilient having an impact on black women’s mental health?
According to a recent piece in The Guardian by Anni Ferguson, the answer is “yes”. Ferguson highlights the fact that black women suffer from increased rates of mental health issues compared to other races in the U.K.
She explains that black women face increased risks to their mental health, and she’s backed up by Marcel Vige, the head of equality improvement at Mind, who says, “The figures around black men are high, but they are also very high for black women too”.
The reasons for this seem to be many and varied but include the fact that many feel tremendous pressure to overcome the stigmas attached to being a black woman. Ferguson started a WhatsApp group entitled HELP! in a bid to discover what could be causing the increased incidence of mental health issues and to understand if cultural and social issues were at play.
She was inundated with messages, which included, “Why do I have to change who I am so that people don’t find me intimidating or aggressive?” and “I can’t embrace who I am, fully. I need to make sure people are always comfortable with me”.
The stories of the women in the article reveal some disturbing facts that may explain the high rates of depression, anxiety and various other psychological problems many black women face.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre’s annual Mental Health Bulletin 2014-15 states how “Black or Black British group had the highest proportion of people who had spent time in hospital in the year, which meant that 12.7 people per 100 who were in contact with mental health and learning disability services from this ethnic group spent at least one night in hospital in the year. This is higher than the figure for any of the other ethnic groups and more than double the figure for the White ethnic group”.
According to BlackWomensHealth.com, “The rates of mental health problems are higher than average for Black women because of psychological factors that result directly from their experience as Black Americans. These experiences include racism, cultural alienation, and violence and sexual exploitation”.
The site says that mental health issues are often difficult to diagnose because black women tend to underplay the gravity of their problems, which results in their seeking help for their issues only much later in life or when their illness becomes quite severe.
Another potential issue is the fear and distrust of mental health institutions, given the history that black women have had with them.
Many of the same problems that are seen in the U.S. could apply to the U.K. American psychologist Lisa Orbe-Austin says psychologists often “try to help [black women] shed some of these stereotypical experiences to kind of cope with healthier ways and to try to find a more integrated sense of self where they feel like they’re truly authentically themselves”.
As a Caucasian woman, I don’t pretend to understand the problems that black women face every day, but rather seek to highlight these important points and start a conversation surrounding them — in the hope that one day all women can be free to be themselves, without prejudice or judgment.