Mental Health and Black Women

Recent NHS research reveals black women are more likely to experience a common mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety panic attacks, than white women and according to the British Journal of Psychiatry, if you’re aged 16 to 34 and black you’re more prone to self harm too.

But why? Is it because we have been conditioned to tolerate pain – to be seen as strong, to be more resilient? Cultural conditioning? Or the painfully debilitating stigma associated with mental ill health and Caribbean communities that we should not talk our business, just get on with it and be grateful?

With my background in therapy aside, I am always the person my friends turn to for emotional support, on the flip-side, perhaps there is an assumption that “strong women” don’t need care, that we don’t struggle and, but stats show that we also struggle to ask for help, because we feel like we should be coping. That coupled with some of the complexities of navigating everyday racism and micro-aggressions. Clinical Psychologist Dr Erica Mcinnis through research believes black women are also exhibiting symptoms of generations of trauma from the transatlantic slave trade that have been handed down to us. Now there’s a sobering thought.

There is an emotional cost to being black. There is an emotional cost to trying to fit into spaces that don’t always include you. There is an emotional cost to consistently code-switching and not being yourself in the workplace. Things frequently experienced by black women but rarely verbalised. Behaviours  that become second nature that we just take on because it “is the way it is”. But this can slowly take it’s toll and might go someway to explain the recent stats revealed by the NHS. I have always been an advocate for ttalking therapies, I’ve seen the power of them –  when you can be seen and treated as human, but they are not always easy to access and having being taught to be “strong” it is no easy feat to admit you might not be coping and need some support. It takes strength to ask for help and courage to be vulnerable. It’s also imperative to have a safe non-judgemental space which isn’t as easy to access, especially for black women as one might assume. It’s one of the reasons I use my background in mental health to host these BAME workshops  (and why recently launched book, Slay in Your Lane was written), to support women in minority groups look after their mental health whilst navigating the unspoken impact of some of the every day experiences of being black or an ethnic minority.

Last week I tuned into Black Girls Don’t Cry a powerful and beautiful told BBC Radio Four documentary commissioned by a Dear colleague of mine and journalist; Marverine Cole who uncovers some thought-provoking stories and frustrating experiences barriers and statistics of accessing mental health services in the UK, especially if you’re black. The documentary also goes some way to answer some of these questions I raise above. Some of the findings in this documentary reinforced what I already knew and some of the recounts of patients struggling to access NHS mental health services made me sad with despair. I used to work in mental health for many years and the industry was broken then and still isn’t coping with demand.

But it does raise the question with services so stretched, what we can be doing to better support ourselves continuously, before we run into difficulty and what we can be doing to better support each other?

If you haven’t tuned to Black Girls Don’t Cry, please do, it’s only 30 minutes and hugely worth discovering more, with a great follow-up piece by The Guardian


We can all do better at practicing better self-compassion, asking for help, supporting each other and reaching out to our “strong” friends, especially the black women in our lives every once in a while.

If you or someone you know would like to join my Being BAME workshop in London on the 2nd August and meet the authors of Slay in Your Lane – reserve your tickets by Monday 30th July 2018 the to claim one of the last spaces. 

Photo Luisa Starling

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