African American women are known by many as one of the strongest groups of women in the world,mentally. But what happens when their mental health takes a turn for the unusual? According to a recently released report from the National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. women are more likely than men to experience serious mental health challenges. Black women in particular, like many Black men, typically avoid the outside advice of a mental health professional when stress starts to affect their mood, activity, sleep, eating habits or weight. Black women often deny mental and physical changes; typically suppress their feelings and even harmful thoughts for fear of being seen as weak or crazy.
Though there seems to be a rise in the number of millennials who seek counseling for stress or other psychic pain, these numbers have not warranted enough attention for the medical industry to research more effective treatment and prevention for people of color, in particular, women of color. Therefore, as a treating provider, I have compiled a list of five things Black women should know about mental health:
1. Seeking mental health counseling or life coaching is not a sign that you’re weak or “crazy.” It means that you or someone close to you notice that there are significant changes in your thinking, behaving and lifestyle and it may warrant the advisement and guidance of a professional.
2. When you avoid seeking help for persistent mood changes, personality changes and changes in thinking, including having thoughts of harming yourself or others, you risk those symptoms worsening, making treatment that much more difficult to impact the chemical reactions in the brain once a regimen begins.
3. Mental health treatment not only impacts the person seeking help but it has a direct impact on the individual, her family and her community. Mental health treatment provides options for exactly what treatment might be right for that person, such as individual or family psychotherapy, a support group, spiritual counseling, psychoanalysis, electric convulsive therapy or medication. There’s no one size fits all plan for everybody!
4. Women who receive mental health counseling at an early onset of symptoms for the most part perform better at work, generally get along well with others, cope better with stress and have overall satisfying and productive lives.
5. And finally, just because there’s still a stigma in the Black and Latino communities about mental health treatment, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t thinking about getting help. It does mean, however, that we’re still not openly talking about it. You may be surprised to discover how your personal disclosure about seeking professional help could inspire someone else to get the help that they need.