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Good mental health is vital for a woman’s well-being


What is the ‘Strong Black Woman’ syndrome?

There are several factors that contribute to Black Women’s mental health. Stressors of Black women include navigating careers, maintaining familial and romantic relationships, children, ailing parents, and maintaining friendships. Throughout life, many people focus on different aspects of their health, including physical and dietary, but how often do people pause and evaluate their mental health needs and or the impact stress is having on their mental health? During and after the pandemic, the growing need for Black women’s positive mental health has grown to reflect a need that is urgent.

According to the Black Psychiatrists of America (BPA), Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious psychological distress than White Americans. Black women in particular are at risk for depression and psychological distress due to outside factors. Mental health is an important topic that can be especially challenging and thought-provoking in terms of what the needs of an individual are. Black women currently face a myriad of challenges with regard to mental health.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected Black women’s mental health in a number of ways. The pandemic heightened stress among Black women and exacerbated the systemic stress Black women have faced for hundreds of years and continue to face present day. Some of the ways in which they are affected include disproportionate loss, and economic pressures, coupled with family pressures and responsibilities. Black women tend to prioritize family and children over their own mental health, due to disruptions in family dynamics. 

The worries for Black women during the pandemic included concerns regarding children’s education and children’s well-being and mental health became a priority while in quarantine. According to the BPA, the mental health of African-American women tended to decline during the pandemic. 

“The inequities in the impact of stress on the health and well-being of Black women cannot be ignored, particularly following the pandemic,” said Linda Goler Blount, president of the Black Women’s Health Imperative. “The lived experiences of Black women speak to the overwhelming stress in their lives.”

Black women are less likely to seek treatment for their mental health. African-American women are disproportionately burdened with the mental health syndrome known as “Superwoman Schema” or SWS. This subject is sometimes referred to as the “Strong Black Woman Syndrome.” It primarily involves the perceived obligation to quell emotion, convey strength, suppress dependence and vulnerability, and to prioritize caregiving over self-care.

The National Institutes of Health reports that SBW can cause severe mental distress. Further, data from a 2023 study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental health Services administration indicated that African-American women are least likely among all other American women to receive timely mental health services.

According to a study conducted by Mass General-Brigham entitled “Putting People First in Mental Health” only 25% of Black individuals seek mental health when needed in comparison to 40% of White people. This is because of a perceived schema of a “Strong Black Woman” rooted and tied back to slavery. A study by the Black Psychiatrists of America states, “Historically, Black women were seen as inherently ‘superhuman’ and able to withstand the physical and emotional destruction of slavery, whereas their White counterparts were seen as more frail and ‘traditionally’ feminine.”

Various studies have looked at this “misunderstood schema” among Black women and their coping mechanisms where solid links have been verified between the Strong Black Woman  schema and depression and anxiety. Apparently, the more internalization of emotions that occurred, the more vulnerable Black women were/are to poor mental health. SBW schema also deters women from accepting and or asking for help, acknowledging emotions, and trusting medical health professionals.  Studies have also indicated that Black women who postpone self-care, prioritize the needs of others, and suppress their emotions during difficult times are more lacking in self-compassion, disconnected from others, are unaware of their own pain, and can potentially find themselves in poor mental health. SBW can lead to binge eating and depression as shown in the Black Psychiatrists of America report. 

Blount noted another pressing issue facing Black women and their mental health journey–maternal mortality. She cited high stress levels as a possible reason for higher maternal mortality rates in Black women. “Stress caused by systemic and interpersonal racism can increase the risk of maternal health conditions in Black women,” she said..

Although there are a number of barriers preventing Black women from seeking mental health treatment, it is important that Black women are aware of the physical and psychological effects of the SBW schema and its relationship with stress. Stress can weigh heavily on a person’s mental health and create a number of mental health issues.

Additionally, the pressure to adhere to the SBW Schema can contribute to a number of physical and medical issues such as irritability, chronic stress, fatigue, headaches, difficulty sleeping, digestive problems, substance abuse, loss of sexual desire, anxiety, disease, and being ill. Chronic stress also shares a relationship with depression and anxiety. 

An article released last month by the Black Women’s Health Imperative, “How Stress Affects Black Women and Tips for How to Manage,” revealed a number of psychological patterns among 72 Black women. Various experiences and stressors such as being essential workers (service industry employees) and caregivers to multiple generations lead to psychological stress. This stress can be compounded by racial bias and discrimination, whether real or imagined. Additionally, Black women’s workday is more likely to include microaggressions, being made to feel inferior, feeling unheard, and feeling as if they have to overachieve in order to be acknowledged.

Studies have observed that Black women may be excessively burdened by physiological impacts of chronic stress caused by health disparities associated with chronic stressors, including perceived discrimination, neighborhood stress, daily stress, family stress, acculturative stress, environmental stress, and maternal stress” 

There are several ways to take charge of your mental health. For Black women, one way to take good care of their mental health is to do what brings them joy, like watching a favorite TV show or engaging in a hobby or passion. Another way to practice self-care is to stay active by getting your steps in each day by walking, jogging, or taking a dance class. Drinking water is also very important and can help positively impact your mood, energy, and thought process. It is important to keep positive energy and interactions in your life by limiting negative energy. Spending less time on social media has been proven to improve overall mental health. 

It is important for Black women  to understand their healthcare rights and access to benefits. For that reason, the Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is working to grant individuals the care and benefits they are promised in the workplace. The Department of Labor is seeking to ensure that health plans–and companies–comply with required mental health services.

“I think for us, ensuring that they have access is a big key to making sure that they are able to treat various conditions,” said Amber Rivers, director of the Department of Labor. “I know Black maternal mental health is another area where I think it’s important to understand the various resources that are available. And so, again I think a lot of our work at the department is really focusing on ensuring that Black women have access to care under their health insurance.”