There’s almost an expectation for Black women to uphold the persona of a Strong Black Woman (SBW). The assumption is that a SBW can handle anything that comes her way without experiencing emotional impact. This schema, or pop culture portrayal, may prevent women from being vulnerable. There’s more focus on “getting over it” and less regard for the mental and physical burdens that may result from this way of thinking. In fact, the SBW schema has been associated with negative psychological disorders.
According to recent investigations and emerging bodies of research, Black women experience an increased risk of psychological turmoil. The SBW construct is a risk factor, and there’s a relationship between SBW endorsement and negative mental health outcomes. Strong Black Women aside, society and researchers paid little attention to the mental health needs of Black people over the years. Additionally, both Black and non-Black communities contributed to the problem.
What Is The SBW Schema?
The SBW is a race-gender schema that paints a culturally specific expectation for Black women. Assumption of multiple roles, caring for others, and an unyielding strength contribute to the narrative. Among Black women, though, there is a central notion or theme of strength, which belongs to their identities. As beautiful and positive as it is to possess strength and courage, it can have a damaging effect on physical and mental health.
Recent research suggests that Black women are 10% more likely to struggle with serious mental health disorders than non-Hispanic whites. In addition to the increased risk for issues, Black Americans report some of the lowest levels of mental health treatment. Stigma, income inequality, stereotypes like the SBW schema, and more all play a roll in low rates of treatment. The reality is that Black women don’t always have to be “strong” to fit the schema. In fact, some may say that it takes more strength to express vulnerability and understand mental health.
The Negative Outcomes Of The SBW Schema
Anxiety, depression, and binge eating are all linked to the psychological effects of pursuing or maintaining strength as a Black woman. Qualitative studies report that Black women feel overwhelmed by societal pressures to embody strength. Being resilient for families and communities may inconvenience personal feelings or needs. This has led to a series of emotional issues because seeking help goes against the SBW schema. You can think of not seeking help as a form of self-silencing, which is an unfortunate reality that often goes unnoticed by the masses.
Depression Among Black Women
According to a 2014 report, percentages of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness were significantly lower in Non-Hispanic White women than Non-Hispanic Black Women 18 years and older. In the report, 9.9% of Non-Hispanic Black women reported that everything was an effort compared to 5.8% of Non-Hispanic White women. A separate survey from 2013-2016 found that depression was nearly twice as common among women as among men. Additionally, the percentage of adults with depression increased with lower family income.
Statistically, Black women are at a socioeconomic disadvantage, which has implications on mental health. Black people living below the poverty line, compared those living over twice the poverty line, are three times more likely to experience psychological distress. Statistics aside, Black women are less likely to utilize psychological services, which may connect back to the SBW schema and self-silence.
It’s possible to accept struggles and still feel as though they are hard to deal with. Talking about these struggles or personal issues can help someone avoid bouts of depression. Seeking care for mental health issues is a choice, and a strong, brave choice at that. Talk to a professional to find the best course of action that decreases symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. The reality is that mental health issues don’t discriminate, as they affect people of all races. You are not alone in your struggle and seeking help or talking about these struggles helps break down the stigma around mental health. There is strength in vulnerability, so don’t forget that.