The strong black woman, God and mental health
I remember having a conversation with a friend about the increase in black women getting on YouTube confessing that they’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression. Some lived to make a video about it, and some unfortunately had committed suicide only for their friends and family to share with viewers that they had been struggling with depression. These types of videos were received fairly well, but what got my friend and I talking about it were the other comments about their depression being fake, that they were weak, or they don’t pray hard or often enough. I remember one black girl in 20s stating that, she didn’t think Christians should be depressed. I could definitely relate. As a black African woman who is a Christian, there were days when I felt that my anxiety and deep sadness were only present in my life because I wasn’t reading my bible enough and me crying everyday was weak and I really just needed to get over it. I needed to be strong. I needed to be the strong black woman that I am supposed be and only communicate with God, more. Communicating with a therapy was the “white thing” to do.
Fortunately for me, I have learned that mental anguish is no respecter of race or ethnicity. It happens to all of us and it is our responsibility to seek the help we need. The idea of the strong black woman has to be redefined or banned all-together
The strong black woman is the woman that accepts everything, holds her tongue, doesn’t cry, doesn’t vent, she is this stoic emotionless woman. Her response to every situation, even when she is the victim, no, especially when she is the victim is to fight back with silence. Not with grieve, not with sadness, not with tears, or anger. The black woman have been trained to suffer silently. In black communities, the best compliment a black woman can receive is that she is a “strong black woman,” and on the days she dares to complain about her burdens, she is advised to take it to the Lord in prayer.
The truth is that this world is full of struggles and we cannot avoid them. Things WILL happen to us that will affect our mental state, for some people more severe than others. Some may experience seasonal depression, some kind of anxiety, clinical depression and some may have even more severe form of mental illness I don’t even have the terms for. But the refusal to address it and seek help is a self-imposed struggle that isn’t virtuous. It does nothing for the one silently suffering and for the generations to come. How strong is mother who never sought help for themselves? How strong is a mother who didn’t heal themselves and can’t admit that she is broken? What about the scars? Aren’t they a symbol of strength? Pretending to not have been injured makes you scar-less, how then can you tell your story of healing?
Strength is finding solutions. It asking for professional help. It is going to the hospital. It is partaking in self-care so you can care for others. It is seeing God in everything. It is believing in prayers. It is believing in medicine. It is an acceptance. Strength is being vocal about your stress and anxiety. Strength is knowing that that the presence of medicine isn’t the absence of God.
It is time that we acknowledge that strength comes in different forms and redefine it for the black woman. Strength isn’t carrying the burden of the world and of your heart by yourself, quietly in your prayer space.
So for the strong black woman I say this to you; that strength that help you carry on even after you’ve read the many articles telling you, you are at the bottom of everyone’s list, that you are the least paid, that you aren’t beautiful that the hairstyles that you’ve always worn were ghetto until it was on another person. The strength that equips you to still wake up and call yourself beautiful. The strength that allows you to hold it together when your world is falling apart, THAT STRENGTH! That strength should enable you to mourn, to share your stories, to confess that you are sad. Use that strength to walk into a therapist office, lay on their gray uncomfortable chair couch, cry your heart out, vent to your heart’s content and admit that you are tired.
Tap into that strength to make you take the pills the psychiatrist you saw prescribed to you, use that strength to go to your therapy appointments faithfully. Use that strength to share your story about your mental health journey and the revelation that although God answers prayer and heal through miracles, God also performs miracles through medicine and professional support.