Dr. Biko A. Sankofa, a developmental psychologist and a founding partner of Vital TMS Therapy for Depression in Washington, D.C., recalls being in graduate school with 15 female classmates who worried that their options for life partners would narrow the longer they stayed in school. Earning more degrees meant having less time to marry and start a family. That alone, Sankofa says, was a trigger for anxiety and, sometimes, depression.
“My female colleagues were afraid that they’d be alone — that they wouldn’t find a partner of equal academic status,” he says. “While African American women are getting academic achievements at a higher rate than [African American] men, they feel like they end up having fewer options, which could lead to some degree of loneliness.”
Loneliness, he clarified, can have little to do with being in physical proximity to someone. But research suggests that for African American women, it can lead to much larger issues.
The findings revealed in ”Treating Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Ethnic and Racial Groups” were the culmination of a five-year study of 168 African American college students at the University of Michigan. There’s little research done on the intersection of mental health, gender and race, explains the report’s author, Dr. Edward C. Chang. “There is the growing appreciation that African American women are basically a double minority,” he says. “Not only are they female, but they are African American, which means they navigate multiple and complex challenges.”
However, Chang warns against falling into stereotypical narratives about Black women’s lives. “African American females don’t often go about telling the world, ‘Hey, I’m very lonely’ and express feelings of depression and anxiety,” he says — which means there are decades of data on Black women’s mental health that may not be very accurate. Only about a quarter of America’s Black population seeks mental health care, compared to 40 percent of White Americans, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“We’ve got to have mechanisms by which African American females can pursue and obtain resources where they feel comfortable enough to be able to talk about these things so they can leverage their challenges within the group [and] in a larger society.”
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