A Lil Extra

The Shared Trauma in Black Women & Mental Health

My article as posted first on The Black Girl Archives 🥰

I am a Black woman and I have internalized a lot of messages about mental health from society and my family. Growing up, I was surrounded by strong Black women that I aspired to be. I really drew on that strength. From their love, I could tell they wanted me to be strong like them, to be better than them. The Black women I experienced growing up were not allowed such luxuries as taking care of their mental health; they were too busy taking care of other people to worry about themselves.

I’m pretty positive they suffered from depression, although I never felt its effects as a child, and they were never officially diagnosed. Depression is genetic. Is it all genetics or is it the compounding trauma and oppression women who look like me have to go through? Are all black women connected, linked by suffering that changes their very DNA?

According to one study in 2013, half of the Black women who participated experienced depressive symptoms. The most significant environmental risk factor they found was stressful life events, either in childhood or adulthood. Between historical trauma and racial trauma, those seem to be pretty significant stressful life events that can contribute to mental health concerns.

I don’t think I necessarily have clinical depression, but I definitely have random episodes of intense sadness. We got out of bed, we took a shower, ate something, and went to work. None of our activities of daily living have been interrupted. We continue to push through. I am not depressed but I am sad. I hear this from numerous Black women I know and love.

My Achilles heel is self-comparison. I thought that was something I have grown out of, but now instead of coveting things other people have that I perceive to give them happiness, I compare myself in the amount of suffering I can endure. “Look at all the suffering of Black women. Surely, I can take this little bit of random sadness that comes and goes for no apparent reason.”

I sometimes scorn white women who can take mental health days or complain about the slight inconvenience. Yes, being a woman is hard, but do you know what my ancestors had to go through, what Black women still have to go through? And all the while, Black women just take it and take it, taking care of other people and killing themselves in the process. Another nasty comparison I am working on.

I am fully aware that stress and feelings are relative to the person experiencing them. That’s why I know my scorn of white women is unwarranted. People don’t know what I go through, just like I have no idea what other people are going through. And even though I may not understand what each individual Black woman is going through personally, I feel like there is an unspoken, shared language among us. 

The pain in me sees the pain in you.

I shouldn’t want to neglect myself just because I see strong people around me doing so. The only person who is judging me is myself. 

I did not only inherit trauma from the Black women who came before me, but I also owe my strength to these Black women. I owe them in the sense that it is because of them I have this strength to carry on through difficult times, and it is because of them I owe them to continue to be strong. But I also owe them to take care of myself because they worked too hard for me to get to this place, a place where I can take better care of myself. We all owe them to take better care of ourselves.

Together as Black women let’s give ourselves the permission to heal instead of trying to pretend that we are superhuman.

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