In “I Rise,” a series from HelloGiggles, Black women writers examine Black women’s mental health from every angle—from what it takes to access treatment, to the exchange of trauma across generations. We hope this series arms women with information and power, and opens up more space for this important conversation to take place.
The thought of going to therapy used to give me anxiety. Ironic, right? While to many people going to therapy may seem like the obvious solution to feelings of overwhelming stress, sadness, and anxiousness, for me—a Black woman—it hasn’t always felt like a clear and reasonable option. Personally, I had never known another woman who looked like me who had gone to therapy. So I grew up thinking therapy was a “white thing” or a “rich thing” because all the women around me just dealt with their problems—or so it seemed.
According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Despite this being the case, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, only about one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of whites. This is due to the negative stigma surrounding mental health, lack of access, and a general distrust of the medical field among Black people (for valid reasons). Thankfully, the increased visibility of Black women seeking treatment and the creation of tools made with Black women in mind (such as the Therapy for Black Girls directory), conversations about mental health care are being had in spaces and by people who didn’t have them in previous years.
Still, there’s room for improvement. I spoke with six mental health professionals—also Black women—about common misconceptions regarding mental health care. From letting go of the Superwoman Schema (yes, that’s a real thing), to finding the right therapist and sticking with it, they told me what they wish they could tell all Black women about mental health.
“What I tell Black women about mental health is that it is okay for you to be honest about your pain and where it comes from. You do not have to explain it away, and it is possible to have both inner strength AND vulnerability at the same time. Learning how to connect with yourself, what you truly feel AND need is the best path to healing, because then not only can you ask for help, but also know how to truly take care of you.”
— Shena Tubbs, founder of Black Girls Heal
“Sis, you can take the cape off! I know we are taught to be strong, but you are not superwoman. It is okay to take the cape off and realize that you are human too. You cannot take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself first. Taking care of yourself starts with your willingness to talk to a professional about why you feel like it is your responsibility to save the world in the first place.
You can find someone who looks just like you. I am an African American woman, a millennial with natural hair, and born and raised in Compton, California. You can find a therapist who understands you, is able to help you through difficult times, and that you vibe well with. So let’s not use that as an excuse to avoid getting the help you need.
Stick with it. Therapy is a process. While some therapeutic modalities are shorter in length, there are some others that require more time to get to the root cause. Please do not expect a quick fix. Be willing to invest time, money and resources to help your therapist help you.”
— Kiaundra Jackson, licensed marriage and family therapist, founder of KW Couples Therapy
“As Black women, we’ve been told that we’re strong for centuries. For many of us, that label has become a badge of honor. As a result, we push through every challenge without asking for help or taking a moment to rest and recharge. But I want Black women to know that our strength is not found in our ability to withstand a lifetime of attacks against our humanity. Our strength is found in our healing. I want Black women to know that we don’t have to normalize our pain and our traumas. We can open ourselves to peace and joy when we begin to prioritize our mental health and healing.”
— Davia Roberts, licensed professional counselor, CEO & founder of Redefine Enough
“It is okay to seek support, assistance, and help from someone else. We often become attached to narratives. At some point, those narratives served us. As we grow, those narratives can limit us and our experience of life. One of the most impactful narratives for Black women is that of the Strong Black Woman. This narrative is narrow and limiting and does not create the space for black women to get in touch with their vulnerability. Meeting with a mental health professional on a regular basis can assist with letting go of that narrative and creating one that better serves them.”
— Erica James-Strayhorn, licensed marriage and family therapist, founder of Erica James Counseling
“Loan your roles but own yourself. Meaning that the titles of mother, wife, sister, friend, executive, etc. can, if we aren’t careful, become our identities. This can negatively impact one’s mental health if something happens to that role (e.g. losing your job, becoming an empty nester, filing for divorce, etc.) Women who are mothers can especially fall prey to this way of thinking. They get so consumed by their maternal role, they begin to ‘lose themselves’ and come to therapy to help them rediscover their identity and what makes them who they are. Practice self-awareness. Recognize what makes you uniquely you (adjectives and characteristics that are not conditional to a role) so that you can feed the person that you are and not just the roles you provide.”
— Farah Harris, licensed clinical professional counselor
“I often tell black women that mental health is an investment you’re making for your soul. Remember: mental health does not mean mental illness, and seeing a therapist can help to minimize stressors in your life. As Black women, we have to recognize that we can take off the superwoman cape and be vulnerable, ask for help, and express our stressors to others. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health.”
— Marline Francois, owner of Hearts Empowerment Counseling Center