You good? Black female mental health is often overlooked

Kylee Armstrong, Contributor

Ever since the start of the pandemic, the issue of mental health has become widely talked about. While it’s now seen as a subject that many people can relate to, mental illness in Black women continues to be overlooked. 

Mental health is a real problem within the Black female community and needs to get the attention it deserves. The denial of its existence is a slap in the face to the thousands of African American women who struggle with their mental health. Let’s start at the very beginning. The root of the problem stems from the fact that Black women are the most unprotected group in America, from the basic racism and discrimination we endure from non-Black people to the treatment we face within our own community. We are left with no choice but to protect, educate, and care for ourselves whether we want to or not. According to the American Psychological Association, Black women are “pigeonholed as strong caregivers who shoulder other’s burdens and do not share their own.”

Meanwhile, the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype hangs over our heads, invalidating the efforts of Black women to advocate for themselves. This stereotype portrays Black women as angry, complaining, and spiteful. To avoid  this characterization, Black women have felt the need to suppress their emotions and trauma, playing into the “Strong Black Woman” trope instead of the angry one. I have always seen these stereotypes as factors that contribute to mental illness in Black women. 

Sometimes the problem is deeper though, more complex, with layers that are hard to express. What is causing this hurt and anger that is so “vivid” and “clear” to others? It’s a mixture of things that can generally be described as societal trauma. Having to deal with being a woman on top of being Black is a challenge that one can only understand if they have experienced it personally. In schools and in the workplace, constant ridicule in the form of microaggressions and outright discrimination also plays a major role in hurting the mental health of Black women. This constant ridicule draws from the stereotypes that are applied to Black women. One study in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed that in a workplace, it is more common for a Black woman’s anger to be labeled as, “internal to her rather than due to external forces”. 

In school, Black girls are also criticized for their hair and clothes. They are mislabeled by teachers and peers, who form opinions of them that are the complete opposite of who they are. All of these judgments are made before we even open our mouths. This disadvantages Black girls academically: rather than only worrying about school work, we have to worry about how our teacher’s perception of us might affect our treatment throughout the school year. Will they think my lashes are too big? Are they going to comment on my nails? Will they side eye me for my choice of shirt? Are they going to ask about my braids? 

Black girls have to work ten times harder to prove their academic ability in the face of these prejudices. It happens all too often that a teacher’s perception of their Black students shows in the way they teach and talk to them. Every Black student has experienced bias in the classroom. Those who are not actively facing these issues can only imagine how the microaggressions, judgements, and societal trauma would affect a person’s mental health when piled on top of one’s individual problems. 

Within the Black community, opinions on mental health have generally been negative, which has led many generations to ignore the mental health problems present in their family and friends. The National Center for Biotechnology Information reported that “approximately 7.5 million African Americans have a diagnosed mental illness, and up to 7.5 million more may be affected but are undiagnosed”. The Black community sees mental illness as something that only affects other races, when in reality it is affecting us just as much. Too often, Black people don’t seek help, instead choosing to use religion or other coping mechanisms in order to continue the facade we put on for loved ones.

The true effect of these stressors and stereotypes is crystal clear, especially as the rate of suicide attempts among Black girls continues to increase. This year, the percentage of Black girls who have attempted suicide stands at 15.2 percent. (This figure is 9.2 percent for white girls and 11.9 percent for Latina girls.) 

The goal of this article is to bring attention to the challenges that Black women and girls are facing without belittling them. It is crucial that we take away the negativity and shame associated with mental illness. As Black girls and women, we deserve the same acknowledgment, care, and acceptance when addressing our mental health issues. As society continues to become more accepting of new opinions and ideas, there needs to be a shift in the way Black women are treated. 

I hope that this article can bring comfort to those who relate, and show them that there is somebody who understands all too well what most others don’t. I also hope to push those who are outsiders looking in to educate themselves on this subject in order to aid in the societal change that we continue to fight for. •