Many Black folks see mental health concerns as a ‘white people problem’ which makes dealing with mental health issues particularly hard for Black women. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only about one-quarter of Black people seek mental health treatment, compared to 40% of whites. On top of the barriers of reaching out to a provider, it’s also very difficult to ask for help when even health providers may expect Black women to be SBW.
But the barriers of stigma and fear are not the only obstacles on the path towards seeking help. Getting care is immensely hard without the proper access to resources. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 20% of Black people had no form of health insurance. Mental health services can be expensive, even with the extra aid of insurance.
It isn’t enough to say #BlackLivesMatter and dismiss the fact that mental health problems plague our communities. Our movements need to address more than questions of life and death, but also issues of quality of life such as access to health care and mental health services. Many people of color have bought into the stigma and fear of admitting that they struggle with their mental health.
Feeling the need to subscribe to an idealized cis-hetero strong Black womanhood has some dangerous side effects, especially in the way it intersects with my identities. As a queer Black woman and single mother, I already feel on the outside of society (and let’s be real, on the outside of many Black circles as well). I am never really sure if, where, and when I can be myself.
As Zora Neale Hurston put it, black women are “de mule uh de world.” Like the mule that carries heavy weight, Black women don’t get credit or respect for our large scale burdens and labors of carrying the world on their shoulders. But while we recognize Black women for our strengths, we have to remember that our fortitude and evidence of survival are only a portion of our truths.
Now I know that stereotypes about the SBW make us believe that Black women can handle more burden and pain than anyone else. Even when we are not feeling our best, many of us know how to carry on, adopting an unsustainable lifestyle.
I want to be allowed to be a Black woman in my own way that makes it ok to not be strong. I want it to be acceptable for me to take care of my health without feeling shame, guilt or strange looks for getting the help I need. I no longer want to hide behind the armor of being a strong Black woman, a mask that only serves to hold me back from truly being free.