The mental health of Black women is in turmoil because of the “Superwoman Syndrome.” Historically this title has served as a positive description of the Black woman who was subjected to inequality in the workplace, blatant or subjective racism, the loss of their children, oppression and limited economic resources. Despite all the obstacles, life had to continue through the harsh social conditions. Black women had to resume their duties as mother, employee, confidant, nurturer, and breadwinner. The superwoman managed without the room for vulnerability. She is strong, doesn’t have any time to express feelings and her needs, wants, and desires go unnoticed. Although the superwoman has been a blessing because she has had the ability to pull her family through difficult times with so much grace and dignity, but it has proven to be a curse too.
I am a product of a single mother who was raising three children. She worked two jobs, my brothers were very involved in sports and I participated in dance, piano and led a very active social life. After working and running all over the town to get us to where we needed to be, she still made sure we had dinner, combed my hair, washed uniforms and leotards, checked homework and made sure we had all we needed for the next day. She went to games, recitals and fixed leaking faucets. There would be days when I would come home from school, the entire house would be spotless and she had worked a 12 hour shift the night before. My mom was, and still is the epitome of a superwoman but she suffered in silence from depression. I didn’t understand the sadness, the silence and the inability to get out of bed when I was a kid. She would fight through it because that is what she was taught to do. Although we always had more than what we needed, she suffered. She probably felt that she couldn’t come forward and say, “I am not feeling well. I am having a tough time getting out of bed in the morning. I can’t stabilize my mood.” If she did, do you think that she would have received any support and encouragement from family and friends? Or is it a possibility that our family and her friends would have questioned her ability to deal with life because historically, Black women don’t feel. We cope. Eventually the vulnerability creeps in and the exterior surface starts to crack, instead of offering loving words, support and encouragement, we have the tendency to “go in.” We ridicule. We say, “She’s crazy.” Depression can impact anyone. Depression happens to the people who look like they have it all together. Fear, sadness and despair are shielded from our loved ones and the world. Those feelings create a group of women who are lacking emotional instability. As for my own mom, she was able to speak out, eventually and get the therapies that she needed. For that, she will always be my hero.
If Black women feel as if the will be viewed as docile and weak if they get help to battle depression, how can we get the help we need? The attitudes about depression in our community will continue to be a barrier in receiving treatment. Truly understanding depression will help remove the stigma that surrounds the illness. Understanding that depression is an illness and not just a bag of unstable emotions, will develop a new and progressive way of thinking, which would be depression being medically treated like any other health problem.
Depression affects 17-20 million Americans each year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that Black Americans experience higher rates of depression compared to White Americans. Black women experience higher rates of depression compared to the general population.
Having the access to adequate and comprehensive health care can contribute to the low rates of treatment among Black women. Approximately 20 percent of Black Americans do not have health insurance compared to 12 percent of White Americans. Unfortunately, Black women are more likely to have fewer economic resources and they are parenting children alone, which causes stress and contributes to poor mental health. Having medical insurance is necessary to addressing depression.
Vulnerability is strength. It is encouraging. Talking about depression could save someone’s life. Let’s talk. Let’s start a positive dialogue about depression in our community so the ones who are impacted greatly will be able to get through it with our support.
Invest in our health.