Why Black Women Need to Fight for Mental Health

By:  Guest Blogger Michelle Gilliam of Black with the Blues


Since the time we arrived here as slaves, black women have had to continually evolve in order to survive the oppressive forces placed on us. From the Reconstruction Era to the second wave feminist movement in the 1970’s, black women juggled the responsibilities of being the breadwinner and having to tend to stereotypical motherly duties. Even nowadays, many take in nieces, nephews, grandchildren, foster kids, etc.

As matriarchs of our communities, black women have historically been leaders who others rely on for emotional and financial support. For this reason, we should take our responsibilities a step further and lead the fight against mental illness.

As pillars of our communities, we have the strength needed to combat the ignorance and stigma that keeps people from getting the help they need. Because of socioeconomic and psychological factors, black people the rates of mental illness are disproportionately higher than other races in America. Black people make up approximately 25% of the mental health needs in this country though they only make up 12- 13% of the national population!

Untreated mental health is often the reason behind the poor quality of our schools, violence in our streets and the breakdown of our families. Black people, women especially, often believe it is necessary to be strong even during difficult times. Symptoms of certain mental illnesses such as depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) are often viewed as signs of weakness and poor character. These falsehoods only feed into the stigma causing those affected additional pain.

Just like we remember to attend each school board meeting, and how we always show up at every protest, black women should exercise that same urgency and rally against poor mental health care in our communities. We need to be creative with our strategies, as well. For instance, churches are leading institutions where people turn to for guidance, charity, health care, food and sense of community. How incredible would it be for us to start the dialogue there? Some churches already offer marriage counseling.Why not expand upon that and offer support groups and have licensed mental health professionals donate some of their time?

If our elderly parents become lethargic and withdrawn, it is possible that they aren’t just getting old and may instead be depressed. That “crazy” cousin of ours can very well have an illness associated with paranoia from which they can seek treatment from. Mental illnesses are never contagious, but rarely affect just the person suffering.  The possibilities are endless and we, as black women, can have a huge impact on the state of our community. We truly need to be at the forefront in the fight against mental illness within our communities in order to see a change occur!

Do you agree? Why do you think women try to be strong even during difficult times? How can we change this?


  1. I agree 100%, Thank you for this post. I hope it is read by many. I brought this topic up at my church one Bible Study night when my Pastor asked what else would we like to see the church doing. Mental illness is personal to me because my mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 19 years old. I started taking care of her financial and was still in undergrad. I say all that to say that at 26 there is such a great stigma or taboo over mental illness. I am sure my mom could have been helped sooner but our communities often brush red flags and signs under the rug and say “we need to give it to God”. Please do not confuse my words. ALL THINGS need to be given over to God however he equipped us with tools to improve our lives and we should.
    I can not speak for all women. I can only speak for myself. I pretended to be strong because I felt like it was my only option. If I cried people would view me as weak and even when I asked my family for helped no one helped my mother. I wanted to be strong because I didnt want my mom to continue to live with out heat or without water. I held back my tears and made sure I graduated from college because I didn’t want her arrested again for her hallucinations of someone setting her house on fire. I was strong and never asked for help again because I felt like “if God gave me these cards then I just need to suck it up and deal with it”…These are not healthy ways to live and I can say that I am thankful to be alive today. There were days when I wasnt sure if I was coming or going because of all the pain, sadness, and anger inside.
    Today Im learning and growing and I speak out against the taboo of mental illness. I encourage people to get the help they need. I even got the help I needed to talk out some of the issues that I was hurting from.
    The sooner we as women of color learn to find a healthy balance the better our lives, relationships, and communities will be.
    Thanks for the post.

    • Jessica, thank you so much for sharing! God wouldn’t give you anything you couldn’t handle…this is true for all of us. I am happy to know you survived and now can tell your own story which can inspire others to join forces to help woman of color properly address mental illness in ourselves and our community. I am going to forward your comments over to Michelle (the guest blogger who wrote this piece) over at http://www.blackwiththeblues.com. She would like to hear your reflective and detailed response.


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