The thought of going to therapy used to give Jameelah Nasheed anxiety. While to many people going to therapy may seem like the obvious solution to feelings of overwhelming stress, sadness, and anxiousness, for Nasheed—a Black woman—it hasn’t always felt like a clear and reasonable option. Nasheed had never known another woman who looked like her who had gone to therapy. So she grew up thinking therapy was a “white thing” or a “rich thing” because all the women around her just dealt with their problems—or so it seemed.
According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Despite this being the case, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, only about one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of whites. This is due to the negative stigma surrounding mental health, lack of access, and a general distrust of the medical field among Black people (for valid reasons). Thankfully, the increased visibility of Black women seeking treatment and the creation of tools made with Black women in mind (such as the Therapy for Black Girls directory), conversations about mental health care are being had in spaces and by people who didn’t have them in previous years.
Still, there’s room for improvement. Nasheed spoke with mental health professionals—also Black women—about common misconceptions regarding mental health care. From letting go of the Superwoman Schema (yes, that’s a real thing), to finding the right therapist and sticking with it, they told me what they wish they could tell all Black women about mental health.
“What I tell Black women about mental health is that it is okay for you to be honest about your pain and where it comes from. You do not have to explain it away, and it is possible to have both inner strength AND vulnerability at the same time. Learning how to connect with yourself, what you truly feel AND need is the best path to healing, because then not only can you ask for help, but also know how to truly take care of you.” — Shena Tubbs, founder of Black Girls Heal.
“I often tell black women that mental health is an investment you’re making for your soul. Remember: mental health does not mean mental illness, and seeing a therapist can help to minimize stressors in your life. As Black women, we have to recognize that we can take off the superwoman cape and be vulnerable, ask for help, and express our stressors to others. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health.” — Marline Francois, owner of Hearts Empowerment Counseling Center.
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