Group Support Is Essential To Black Women’s Mental Health

TogetherI have been proactively seeking new treatment and support for my ADHD in the last few months. I’m sad to say that the process has been daunting. My first step was to find someone to reevaluate my strengths and challenges, and give me some new tools to manage my condition. I can’t believe how many impatient receptionists I’ve encountered that have offered wait lists spanning from 2 weeks to 3 months. When I run across the  facilities that offered in depth evaluations that include strength-based treatment plans with outstanding support, these clinics boast 4 and 5 figure price tags with no interest in the health insurance I carry. The process has made me long for someone I could talk to that understands my plight. I know that most of the hardship I face is a product of living in NYC. However, I feel my struggles stem from a deeper issue.

The Salve Called Sisterhood

I have always been fascinated by the ancient practice of village menstrual Huts used in many parts of the world, including some of our Native American  communities. This was the use of secluded huts set up for menstruating women to retreat (or be banished to) during their time of the month. There is a common understanding that women were considered unclean and were in turn banished to these huts until they were “clean” again. When I think of these huts, I can’t help but feel a sense of comfort because this to me, is another example of how women come together in adversity and empower each other through empathy and validation of each other’s shared experience. Whatever the world throws at us, together women persevere.

Group Support and the Black Community

In searching for new treatment options, I hoped for that source of women empowerment that I knew could be key to getting a handle on the new challenges I have been facing. I discovered so many women centered online supports and even joined a meet up group for women with ADHD  in the New York City Area. However, I couldn’t find one group that gathered in the name of the shared experience that is being a black woman with a mental impairment/challenge/condition/disability, and I am in shock.

Mental Health groups and other types of informal support groups are essential to Black Women. While it should not take the place of professional treatment and care, support groups could potentially act as a primary gateway for African-American Women for seeking the care they need. I believe this is because:

  • We are more likely to seek help and answers from our friends family and community than from doctors in a professional setting.
  • Further more, black women are overall less likely than white women to seek help at all for mental health issues, and when we do it’s  when symptoms are severe and debilitating. 
  • A history of direct or indirect negative experiences  with medical professionals has created a sense of  distrust in our communities.
  • There is still little representation of black folks in position to give culturally sensitive care to those who do seek treatment; which can lead to poor follow up/follow through.
  • The strength in the process of coming together and validating a common experience with your sisters is strong enough to overcome the previous points!

Just as I imagine the women in those huts, I long for that bond for myself and seek it out in the neighborhoods of this city.

I am truly surprised by the lack of options for informal support accessible to women of color. Our community continues to suffer from negative sociopolitical experiences such as racism, discrimination, and sexism which make African American women more succeptable to low-income jobs, multiple role strain, and health problems; all common stressors that can bring about mental illness.

Older African American women may be at particularly high risk for developing mental illness due to disability from chronic medical conditions, caregiver strain, social isolation, bereavement, exposure to traumatic events (elder abuse, violence, living in crime ridden neighborhoods), and poor access to health care. ( Earlise Ward 2010)

If Approximately 7.5 million African Americans have a diagnosed mental illness, and up to 7.5 million more may be affected but undiagnosed, I can’t help but to feel concerned by the difficulty that I have faced in searching for the support I long for. Not just for myself but for all of the women of color in my city who may not have the access to the resources I have, or the ability to navigate the mental health system.

 New York was stated to be the most heavily populated area for black  folks, at 3.3 million in 2010. How could it be that I am still, with all my know-how and resourcefulness  unable to find the support of a group of women who can identify with my experience as an African American women living with a mental health condition as common as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? It isn’t a secret that the above mentioned sociopolitical struggles exists for the African American population. However, it’s as if we ourselves believe that if we ignore the hurt, or pray it away, it will pass. And while we as a people rely on religious support as our main source of treatment for most all of our ailments, this too can be a barrier to getting the treatment we need. The Pastor or reverend and his staff may not have accurate or enough knowledge to be an ultimate source ( for the record I believe God is in everything and gives the gift of healing through doctors and pharmacologist just as he gives the gift to our men and women of the cloth.)

What Now? 

I continue to seek that support tailored just for me, in hopes that I am not alone in this  journey to maintain my mental health in a community still plagued by silence and stigma. If the search continues much longer, I may just have to create what I seek and give that support to others

what is your view on the Mental Health resources in your community for women of color?

If you are in NYC and believe I’m just not looking in the right places? please share with us.

It’s so much easier to work at this together than it is to cope on your own

Additional Resources:

African American Women’s Beliefs About Mental illness, Stigma and Preferred Coping behaviors

Community Development and Family support: forging a Practical Nexus for Family and Community

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