Black women are queens, and when we think of queens, we think of strength and leadership. The strong black woman is the often narrative for women in the African American community but has significant psychological risks.
Black women often have to wear several hats. They are mothers, sometimes the sole financial providers in their households, and they have to assimilate. Often having to address an identity that is unique from others. They are not able to identify in either of the dominant groups in society. Black women are neither male nor white, which creates an identity that is frequently overlooked in society. They often have to be providers like white men, but they must also nurture and care for their children much like the roles of traditional white women. The idea that black women must be providers as well as caregivers while grappling with their own identities can cause significant distress (Abrams, Hill, & Maxwell, 2019). Their own internalized views of self (Abrams, Hill, & Maxwell, 2019), that have been impacted by historical trauma, exacerbates the problem. They often do not report how they feel and/or seek help even though they are at higher risk of experiencing mental health issues such as depression due to lack of engagement in treatment.
To heal and change the narrative, black women must be seen; seen as different and valuable. When black women experience distress, their identities must be considered in the health care system in general. Black women can begin to reduce stressors by seeking therapy if their stressors are causing functional issues such as lowered motivation that may impact relationships and careers. Keep in mind that their family relationships and careers are often parts of their core values. The identities of black women who seek mental health therapy cannot be ignored. The therapist has to identify the roles of women of color in their work and familial systems, under assess how stressors related to identity can impair functioning. Once black women start to embrace their unique identities and engage in culturally competent mental health therapies that provide safe spaces while challenging the identity that was formulated by the history of slavery and societal pressures they can heal.
Mental health therapy is a tool that should be embraced by black women who experience significant distress but feel as if they must manage alone. They do not have to manage alone. They can engage in independent self-assessment by journaling their needs and be prepared to share their specific needs with a mental health therapist to help successfully navigate the treatment process. Additionally, black women can share their therapy experiences with others in their family and society as a whole to address the stigma associated with mental health treatment. They can gain information from primary care doctors and/or visit helpful sites such as Psychology Today to locate a therapist. A tentative plan of action should be implemented with treatment providers so they can gauge their progress throughout treatment. Again, they must be aware, process stressors, and reflect on progress made to shift the narrative and heal. Black women can begin to process challenges by first adjusting the lens in which they view challenging situations. They need to be kind to themselves, allowing self-compassion, embracing the beauty of their uniqueness, while advocating for a narrative that are inclusive of their experiences.
The new narrative is built on a foundation of self-compassion, the idea that one understands they have flaws and will make mistakes, while also being happy with their identity. Self-compassion means one is able to be kind to herself, knowing she is imperfect. The concept of strong black women should be modified. Modified to normalize the fact that people make mistakes, and they don’t have to heal alone and/or carry unnecessary baggage as they navigate life. Mental health therapy that is culturally inclusive, addresses challenges black women face that others do not.
Black women are jewels and should be valued because of their individuality and the beauty they exude. Mental health is a tool that can no longer be overlooked, but instead it is imperative it is used to embrace the identities of black women, thereby creating a new narrative.
Michelle Chambers is the owner of Therapeutic Family Solutions (TFS), an outpatient mental health therapy practice. She obtained both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of NC at Chapel Hill. Michelle is Licensed as a Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), which allows her to treat those with mental health needs such as depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress disorders. She specializes in treating those who suffer from addiction and is a Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist (LCAS). Michelle believes in raising community awareness and combating the stigma associated with having a mental health or substance use issue. Her work focuses on helping clients change their mindset and thinking patterns to essentially improve overall cognitive schemas (thinking better), which leads to client proactivity. Clients are served in person and through the use of tele-psychiatry. In addition to therapy, workshops and programs are provided for businesses to assist personnel in improving leadership and self-care.