What do you get when you mix strong, black, influential women and a worthy cause? A great blog post, that’s what. The beautiful ladies below agreed to share their wisdom and knowledge on a topic that is widely shunned in the black community: that of the stigma associated with being black, depressed and female. Their speaking out on it is a move in the right direction, and, hopefully, the start of this very important discussion.
The question I asked them was:
How can depressed, black women deal successfully with depression while facing the stigma against mental health issues so prevalent in the black community?
Here are 11 fabulous women sharing their thoughts and actionable steps on the matter. Enjoy!
Cheryl Wood – CherylEmpowers.com // @CherylEmpowers
Cheryl is an award-winning international Speaker, Author, Coach, and Entrepreneur. She has been featured on the Dr. Oz show, ABC, Radio One, Fox 5 News, ESSENCE Magazine, Black Enterprise Magazine and multiple other media outlets.
I encourage Black women who are facing depression to boldly seek out a powerful tribe of supporters. But this tribe should not consist of individuals who only sympathize with them… This tribe must consist of individuals who have directly or indirectly been impacted by depression and, thus, empathize with them based on a deeper experience with depression. Go out and find the tribe you need or if it does not exist, create the tribe. And be sure to diversify your tribe with a combination of listeners, encouragers, and tough love supporters.
Jenny Garrett – JennyGarrett.Global // @JenniferGarrett
Jenny Garrett is an Executive Coach, Founder, Author, Mentor & Speaker. She is also the author of Rocking Your Role.
When I was growing up, I was told to keep what happened in my home private. That airing of our problems and worries would give people ammunition to hurt us, cause us shame or embarrassment. I think many people in the black community have been told to be strong and protect themselves in the very same way. However, when mental health issues arise, overplaying your strength can be a weakness, because this is the time to seek help and support not to pretend that you are OK.
The first thing to do is to visit a doctor who can refer you to a counsellor. The great thing about this is that it is confidential and that you will start to open up about how you are feeling to a professional who will take you seriously and provide a space for you to consider strategies to help. This can you bridge the way for you to open up to those closest to you.
The second thing you can do is to educate those around you with what mental health issues really are. The word “depression” is overused and the symptoms of depression can be very different. Help those closest to you to understand. Refer them to articles on the internet, videos, pamphlets and books that can help. At the very least, let them know that you are not feeling strong right now so that they don’t have the same expectations of you.
The third thing to know is that you will not be alone. As soon as you start to speak up you about your mental health, you will find that others have had similar challenges and will welcome the permission to share them with someone who understands.
Lastly, when you are well enough, you might want to start your own group, sharing your story and giving depressed black women a safe space to be open about their mental health and life experiences.
Dr. Browne is a registered psychologist and a member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario.
Modern beliefs and symbolism in our community have created some problems in our community. The “strong black women” and the “angry black women” stereotypes depict images of proud women who don’t take no for an answer. While it can be seen as a great life lesson, it may also allow black women to use this same coping strategy through adulthood which may foster an environment in which they have to manage everything which does not allow the opportunity for black women, in particular, to acknowledge their humanity.
The stereotypical image of the strong black woman can also be seen as a barrier to access to mental health treatment. It is “treason” to admit that black women cannot cope. Issues may not be seen as mental health related due to societal mental health stigma. Some of the exciting and important research Black psychologists are conducting today includes studying the importance of racial identity as a protective factor against depression and stress, studying the detrimental effects of racism and evaluating the effects of the media on the Black psyche.
The unveiling of mental illness as a hidden phenomenon and having candid discussions of depression as a disorder on par with other diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes is going to be the first step of addressing the secrecy in our community.
Tamara Beauboeuf – // Tamara Beauboeuf
Tamara is Women’s Studies Director and professor of women’s studies at DePauw University. She is also the author of Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman: Voice and the Embodiment of a Costly Performance.
Despite its characterization in the Black community as a “white” illness,
depression is something Black women know. It’s what we call a “breakdown” and what we describe as a physical, emotional, and spiritual bottoming out.
Black women who are depressed often voice very astute understandings of how impossible the strong Black woman role is; that it expects us to be a“Black Jesus girl” in the words of one my interviewees.
Key to moving through depression and against the stigma against mental health issues is for Black women to listen to what many in my study called their “deep down insides.”
It is in these internal conversations that we recognize that the problem is not that we are weak, but that the demands placed on us are impossible. Black women coming out of depression step away from the selflessness, overcaring, and unflagging fortitude of the strength mandate, and embrace an honesty about their capacities and limitations, a notion of interdependence, and an awareness of the importance of self-care.
Ntathu Allen – YogaInspires.co.uk // @yogainspiresyou
Ntathu is a Yoga and Meditation Teacher who loves to teach yoga and meditation to super busy women. She is also an author and has written books including How to Love Yourself More and Yoga For Beginners: The Busy Woman’s Guide To Easy Yoga Poses And Meditation Techniques To Relieve Stress At Work And Find Peace And Quiet At Home.
A few words to encourage you through your pain.
Make A Promise
Promise me, my dear sistah,
Promise me, you’ll do your best.
Do your best, to wake up and greet the sun.
Greet the sun with a joyful heart, bow and acknowledge your inner gifts of
strength and pride.
Promise me, my dear sistah,
You’ll look within.
Touch the diamonds and sapphires, buried deep in your soul; the
frankincense of times gone by, memories tainted, lost, as the system tried
to dampen your light and encourage the moths to fly away.
But, you are, we all are stronger than that.
Promise me, you will wake, touch the diamonds in sky and breathe the
everlasting breath of selflove, inner peace and happiness.
Yoga and meditation are the perfect antidote to help black women deal
successfully with depression. “Yoga…helps you to love, give, breathe & be.”
Placida Acheru – Coaching4Excellence.com // @Placida_Acheru
Placida Acheru is a Multi-award winning Business Growth Strategist, Multi-Time #1 Bestselling Author, Publisher, Mentor, Speaker supporting women to discover themselves and build profitable lifestyle businesses. She recently launched her bestselling book Love Unboxed: An Anthology for women by women which can be found on Amazon.
Being Black means strong enough to deal with anything. That is a misconception that’s been passed down for generations. Blacks don’t seek help. We pray and we don’t tell so neighbours or extended family members don’t see us weak or substandard.
If you have serious medical issues for instance Sickle cell, HIV, Cancer or Diabetes you would seek help and probably talk about it.
If you find yourself in a situation where you become ashamed because of a medical issue, you must remember, you have come to this world alone and so no one has the right to make you feel less than anybody else.
My tips for keeping your head high!
- Find people that inspire and motivate you. Depression takes time and anything can be a trigger, so being around people who support you is very important.
- Pace yourself. You are dealing with something no one else understands but you. Do not take on too much to please others. Do what you can when you can. Work can wait, you are more important.
- If you need to see a specialist please do not hesitate. Cognitive Behaviour Theory has been proven to help and stop the need for mood changing drugs. The theory says talking about your depression helps healing.
- Finally, from personal experience dealing with Sickle Cell Anaemia, I soon discovered that helping others dealing with the same situation gave me strength and courage to speak out more. Some other people choose to write about their story in a book bringing about healing as they put pen on paper. The more people share, the more people get help.
Melissa Emmanuel – Melissa Emmanuel
Group People and Benefits Manager at Virgin Limited Edition, is an accomplished HR professional with over 15 years of experience in the private sector. A dedicated mother to her 3 daughters and a depression survivor.
Such a dirty, toxic and pitiful word. Strangely enough, a word that brings me a peculiar type of relief. It’s almost like a ‘face to a name’ a familiar song with a sweet melodic but melancholic chorus that ushers me to safety, reassurance and comfort.
Yes, I suffer from depression, but guess what?
The surprised and confused look on people’s faces when I tell them (quite matter- of-factly) that I suffer from depression still perplexes me. In 2017 when mental illness in black women is increasing at such an alarming rate. I ask myself ‘How can there still be such a stigma?’ ‘Why is there still such a taboo?’
Well, I feel that in the black community people have a preconceived idea of what depression looks like.
It looks weak, it looks unconfident, it looks white!
Anyone who truly knows me would attest to the fact that those labels do not describe me in the slightest. I am not weak (not by a long shot), I am incredibly confident and I would describe myself as unapologetically black. I have worked extremely hard to build a successful career, I have beautiful children, a family and I do not suffer from low self-esteem, and yet I am sometimes depressed.
I am what depression can look like.
As black women it can almost feel like even the concept of being mentally vulnerable is a ‘privilege’ not afforded to us. I have memories of my mother and grandmother in times of despair saying: ‘Melissa, this will not break you, tie your waist and keep pushing’. So that’s what I always did! Pushed my emotions to the back of my head ‘tied my waist’ and kept it moving.
Black women are bred to be unshakeable, impenetrable and supernatural beings who wear pain and suffering as a badge of honour and do not under any circumstances break.
Well; I broke…. Several times in fact, and with each break I have pieced myself back together to create a stronger and more self-aware version of myself.
We are so scared of being stigmatised and labelled that we do not speak out. We suffer in silence. Walking through life like emotionally suppressed zombies, killing ourselves softly and repressing a myriad of emotions in order to save face?
There must be a better way……
There needs to be open dialogue about the subject of depression and mental illness in our community. We should not be ashamed to open up and tell our stories in an effort to uplift and inspire others to overcome their own struggles. And lastly, we need to love and nurture ourselves and realise that our emotional wellbeing is just as important as our physical.
Depression is not a choice, but the way we choose to deal with it is. We cannot control our cultural conditioning that has led us to associating depression with guilt, shame and weakness. But we can actively encourage ourselves to reevaluate our mindsets with a view to manifesting pragmatic and progressive solutions.
Let’s try to let our guards down and take it easier on ourselves. There is strength in vulnerability and courage asking for help.
We are worthy of love, we are valuable enough to extend that love to ourselves.
Valerie Brown, JD MA, ACC – LeadSmartCoaching.com // @Valeriebrown951
Valerie is the founder of Lead Smart Coaching and the queen of mindfulness. She is also the author of The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School.
Mindfulness: Transforming Depression One Breath at a Time
“….transform the very air in which you move let it announce love, justice….” Ruth Forman, from Prayers Like Shoes, Whit Press, 2009
By 2020, the World Health Organization predicts that depression will be the second largest cause of human suffering and by 2030, it will be the largest cause of human suffering. Black women are particularly susceptible to depression because we too often wear an armor of ‘strength’, repressing inner grief, hurt, sadness, and emotional distress with an outer façade of independence, imperturbability, and caregiving. These behaviors are an unconscious, unexamined coping mechanism with potentially dire consequences. Mindfulness, with its reliance on breath awareness, has been shown to cultivate greater self-awareness and self-compassion, addressing the harmful effects of ‘strength’.
Valorie Burton – ValorieBurton.com // @valorieburton
Valorie is a bestselling author, speaker, and life coach. She has written a remarkable ten books including Get Unstuck, Be Unstoppable, Successful Women Think Differently, and What’s Really Holding You Back?
Although depression can rob you of your happiness, it doesn’t have to win at this. To find out what you need to do to be able to become a happier woman, try out the link below kindly provided by Valorie herself:
Doris Allimadi – THECWT.org // @AllimadiDoris
Doris is a mother, author, and poet. She’s also recently written and published a must-read, Lost, my battle with depression.
It all starts with self-love, self-respect, and self-belief. The concept of the 3 selves, as I call them. In other words putting yourself first and #damnthestigma.
It is true that depression and other forms of mental illnesses, in general, are still not viewed as real illnesses and sufferers face a lot of stigma and discrimination.
Currently, in the UK, there is a lot of discussion on the topic, and very recently, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry spoke of their mental state after the demise of their mother Princess Diana. Mental Health Charities are hopeful that these voices will go a long way into changing the perception of mental health, sufferers and indeed do away with the stigma attached.
The stigma is worse in the black community, ‘for our people do not suffer such illnesses!’ The subject is very much a taboo.
It is worse for women because we are expected to be strong, independent and able to take, head on, any situation and be ok. Be it, for example, a financial crisis, failed relationship, single motherhood, you name it, we are simply expected to pray, hold our heads up and business as usual. The strain of keeping up such a façade is very tumultuous. Is it a wonder that we eventually become depressed? We have to wear this daily false cap of strength and happiness when the reality is contrary.
I hid my illness from family and friends because I did not want to deal with the stigma attached to it or be discriminated against. I didn’t want to be called a nutter, I didn’t want to be called an attention seeker, I didn’t want to be told to snap out of it when I couldn’t. This made the situation worse, it started to affect not only my mental state, but my physical too. I ate and drunk excessively in order to cope, and of course I then gained weight, hated what I saw in the mirror and got more depressed. It is a vicious cycle. The very things that we use to self-medicate turn out to be the very things that cause us to decline into deeper depression.
It is true that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom because then there is nowhere to go but up.
I had to talk to myself. I had to hold very brutal and honest discussions with the self and ask myself if what I had become is what I wanted in life. Was there more to me than the bottle? Fortunately, there was. The climb became a necessary necessity.
I sought help and embarked on a journey of self-discovery which eventually turned into self-recovery.
Self-love, self-respect and self-belief. Love yourself enough to seek help. It is not a sign of weakness, the opposite is. Respect yourself enough to behave better than your depressive states demands that you do. Belief in yourself, belief that you can do it, that you can get better that you can acquire mechanisms to cope with your illness.
Rev. Anita McKenzie – Sistahintheraw.com // @SistahInTheRaw
Rev. Anita McKenzie is a Holistic Health Educator and Life Transformation Teacher, Spiritual Counsellor, Interfaith Minister and Writer. She’s also a certified Hippocrates Institute Health Educator, Meditation Teacher and a raw food and *healthy *eating teacher..
My Inner Radiance has been restored…
When Lizzie asked me to contribute to this topic, I jumped at the opportunity to share my insights with my sisters! This is a topic very dear to my heart.
I believe that the stigma attached to mental health issues, specifically depression and anxiety, is widespread and is based on ignorance. This viewpoint is based on my own personal experience, along with my belief that the ‘Strong Black Woman’ syndrome is another stigma that can and does complicate our view of ourselves and the life which we create based upon it. So here’s some of my take on it.
Sometimes it isn’t until you find yourself lying in bed, shaking on the inside, tearful and afraid that you realize something was really wrong. Not being able to think clearly, binging on chocolate, cake, and cookies, and leaving behind everything you know that is healthy, living with insomnia and a dodgy digestion are all glaring signs that something within you is out-of-sync.
Your personal awareness may be strong, with a spiritual life that is evolving and you’re thriving in work or business; but suddenly if it all stops, you may be finding it almost impossible to function!
One thing I learned quite quickly is that if you’re a doer, people around you rely on you and expect you to carry on. When you can’t, they can become afraid and even impatient with you when you begin to falter away from being a high-functioning individual. Their lack of understanding can be the cause of great tension and strife, often triggering feelings of guilt and badness inside.
It can be difficult when you can’t really explain what is happening to you and you don’t recognize yourself anymore.
I’ve figured out that meeting yourself in a space where you can feel safe is crucial. Taking tiny steps towards healing can lead to bigger steps and these hints could be helpful:
– Consider who might sit with you in the darkness of this experience and just be there, not even speaking if necessary, willing to be with you, on the end of a phone, hearing you cry etc. Yes, these people do exist. Sometimes they are counselors, spiritual advisors or deeply grounded friends.
– Learn how to allow yourself to acknowledge your fears, perhaps terror and worries, and recognize that you are in your process, and how to do this without self-judgment and self-criticism.
– Get your doctor to refer you to local services like counseling, a healthy eating class, or exercise class in your area, or find activities that lift your spirits and do them regularly.
– Try using quality essential oils such as lavender, orange, geranium, lemon or frankincense oils to promote calm, peace, acceptance and emotional balance.
– Buy, borrow or go to a library for books to read if you can. Personal development books that encourage your healing and help you not to over-identify with past and present challenges or trauma in your life-story and how to live in the present.
– Learn how to practice forgiveness and gratitude. Journaling can really assist you with this process.
– Get physical! Move your body more and you can even start in your bedroom if you like. A bit of stretching, yoga online, dancing to uplifting music and when you feel bolder, get physical outside. Try walks outside in the beauty of nature, trying to appreciate as much of it as you can manage. This is a real energy booster and mindset enhancer. The better you feel, the more you’ll do.
– Eat well – forget the stodge. Wean yourself off any overindulgence in sugar, salt and fatty processed food; and stay hydrated. Get rid of processed food, sodas or fizzy drinks and coffee. Go for a walk to the park instead and pick up some fresh fruit and water along your way. You’ll be surprised at how a cleaner diet with life-sustaining plant-based foods will energise you and do away with any brain fog.
Keep in mind that it isn’t about getting back to who you are. It’s about making space for that new that is evolving through this painful experience. You are the main ingredient in this healing process and what you chose to add to it moment by moment will make a world of difference to your progress.
Eventually developing a positive mindset, and making life-enhancing and loving practical choices can enable you to reconnect safely with yourself and to cultivate great loving connections with others. You will later begin to feel that your inner radiance has been restored.
What insightful words from such inspirational women! They all deserve a warm round of applause and thanks for contributing to this masterpiece. What do you think, ladies? Was the information they shared useful to you? Willing to try some of the suggestions? Let me know below.