Mental health – the name we use for our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It’s being talked about everywhere. As life gets busier with more demands and longer to-do lists, our mental health can suffer. The affects on our personal lives, our homes and society in general can all create situations where our mental health is under attack.
Where do a Black woman’s mental health triggers start?
The balancing act between work and home makes it easy to forget this important part of our self-care. How do you check-in on yourself when there’s a pile of washing to do? Or you have to work late to finish that report for your manager? Us Black women know that along with these every day challenges, the pressures of racism can add to our mental health struggles. These are some of the triggers we’ve always faced and continue to affect us:
In the workplace
So where do I start? I don’t think there’s enough space here to talk about all the micro-aggressions we have to deal with at work. It can start with being afraid to wear our natural hair in case the organisation thinks it’s not professional. So we start wearing a straight weave or wig to make us feel like we fit in. Holding back who we truly are diminishes our emotional strength.
Being expected to keep on trying and going and going….you see the theme; it’s like we’re sometimes on the ‘elevator to nowhere’. Yes this creates stress and depression.Afrowoman Online
When it comes to being our true, authentic selves, we can spend a lot of time ‘code-switching’. The definition of ‘code-switching’ in Encyclopedia Britannica.com is defined as “a process of shifting from one linguistic code (a language or dialect) to another, depending on the social context or conversational setting.”
We often adopt this approach to prevent the ‘Angry Black woman’ label being attached to us. So holding back our opinions becomes the norm. Any wonder that this can affect our mental health? Supressing who we are and the strength of our voices creates wounded emotions, leading to stress, depression – yes mental health struggles.
Hard work leading to no progress
Going through situations where we’re being passed over for promotions or having our efforts ignored is one of the most demoralising situations you can go through. Being side-lined while working on projects or having our white colleagues take the ‘credit’ for our ideas is a common occurrence. That feeling of no matter how hard you work, it won’t be acknowledged and so your progress will be hampered, is emotionally draining. So when the career progress doesn’t happen and this is combined with financial setbacks, it’s hard for it not to impact our mental health. Being expected to keep on trying and going and going….you see the theme; it’s like we’re sometimes on the ‘elevator to nowhere’. Yes this creates stress and depression.
The health battles we’re working to win
Stress, caused by everything mentioned above and financial struggles create levels of emotional turmoil. That feeling that you have to keep on going but being triggered by the racism and bad treatment can lead to fear and hopelessness. Studies are now showing that emotional struggles and mental health problems can create physical illness. I believe that a lot of the emotional and mental health struggles experienced by Black women is one of the reasons we suffer with fibroids, diabetes and some deadlier diseases like breast cancer. Along with these illnesses, stress and depression will also play a large part.
Our beauty still not valued in white society
The lack of acceptance us Black women often feel in in society is now being recognised. The message that our skin is too dark, noses too wide, bodies not thin enough – all to fit in with the Caucasian beauty standards have undermined our emotional health for years. For some this affects their mental health to the point of not feeling recognised or valued. It’s only by raising our voices and recognising our standards of beauty that we can find our value.
The news stories about Child Q, violated during a strip search at school and the treatment by the police of the murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman; the message is our bodies do not ‘attract the same value’ as a white body.Afrowoman Online
Strong mental health = feeling safe
During times of slavery a Black woman’s body did not belong to her. I can’t explain how angry it makes me feel to think about my fore-mothers being raped, brutalised and dehumanised because of the colour of their skin. So feeling safe was not something we could really claim. The fight for our wellbeing and safety is something our mother’s generation didn’t have the freedom to do, so we continue that today.
Fast forward to our lives now and we still question if a Black woman’s body is as valuable as a white woman’s body? The news stories about Child Q who was violated during a strip search at school and the sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman who were reported missing, later found murdered, after it became clear the police didn’t bother trying to find them and took pictures of their dead bodies for ‘fun’. The message is our bodies do not ‘attract the same value’ as a white body. This realisation can also undermine our emotional and mental health.
Where can we start to get help for our mental health?
I don’t have all the answers and I’m not a trained mental health professional. But I want to offer something here to support Black women who might be struggling and to help us all manage our mental health day-to-day:
- Being honest with yourself about what you’re feeling. Whether this is pressures at work, racism or the feeling unsafe for any reason. It’s ok to say what you feel.
- Speak with someone as soon as you can. It could be a family member but if it’s easier to talk to someone independent or professional, then do what is best for you. Just don’t sit alone in fear and shame.
- Look for the actions and tools which can help you now. Whether that’s journaling to write down all of your feelings, take a walk or taking a break from human interaction, e.g. from work or a family gathering. Take the action you need to prioritise your mental health as soon as possible. You have to prioritise yourself.