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Unveiling the Silent Struggle: Black Women and Anxiety

Anxiety has become an increasingly common mental health concern affecting individuals from all walks of life. However, when it comes to Black women, the struggle with anxiety is particularly complex, rooted in historical factors and compounded by societal stigmas. Additionally, when  compared to their white counterparts, Black women are only about half as likely to seek care. What are some of the reasons Black womens’ struggle with anxiety is different and what are some of the ways Black women are leading the charge in dismantling the barriers to mental health support?

The Hesitancy to Seek Help

Anxiety, Black Women, Silent Struggle
Black women have faced a multitude of barriers when it comes to seeking mental health support for anxiety. One such barrier is the trope and stereotype of the “strong Black woman.” This persona handles all issues and trials adeptly, never showing weakness. But the “strong Black woman” has been shown to be bad for Black women’s mental health. Feeling the need to meet this stereotype perpetuates gender discrimination, but adds undue stress to Black women. This creates added pressure to suppress emotions and maintain an outwards appearance of strength, even when – on the inside – they are struggling deeply with anxiety.

Historical distrust of the healthcare system also plays a role in Black women’s hesitancy to admit their struggles and seek help. With a bleak history of “medical apartheid,” where countless incidents of mistreatment against Black individuals (most notably, the Tuskegee study), there’s understandably an inherent distrust that has caused a reluctance in seeking professional help.

This distrust is compounded by a lack of culturally competent mental health providers. Despite Black men and women making up nearly 14 percent of the population, 80 percent of the psychology workforce is white. The scarcity of mental health professionals who understand and can address the unique experiences of Black women further hampers access to appropriate care.

The Unique Anxiety of Black Women

While studies have shown that different races seem to experience anxiety differently, Black  women who experience anxiety are more likely to experience more chronic and severe anxiety than their white counterparts. The anxiety experienced by Black women cannot be divorced from the historical context in which it arises. Factors that have contributed to this phenomenon include generational trauma: the legacy of slavery, racial discrimination, systemic oppression and microaggressions exacerbate the trauma experienced by Black women – creating a cycle of anxiety that persists today. Additionally, Black women must navigate the complex intersectionality of race and gender, grappling the challenges that come with both.

Identifying the Signs of Anxiety

Figuring out if you're going through anxiety means keeping an eye out for some common signs. Here are some common signs and symptoms that can help you recognize if you are experiencing anxiety:

  • Persistent feelings of worry, fear, or unease that interfere with daily activities and relationships.
  • Physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, trembling, sweating, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Excessive and irrational concerns about specific situations or future events, accompanied by an intense desire to avoid them.
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless sleep.
  • Difficulty concentrating or experiencing mind going blank.
  • Irritability, restlessness, and a constant sense of apprehension.
  • Muscle tension, headaches, or other bodily sensations associated with anxiety.
  • Avoidance behaviors or an overwhelming need for reassurance from others.
  • Intrusive or racing thoughts that are difficult to control.
  • Heightened sensitivity to environmental stimuli, such as noise, light, or crowds.
  • Social withdrawal or avoidance of situations that trigger anxiety.

Addressing the Anxiety Burden of Black Women

Anxiety, Black Women, Silent Struggle, Stress
Despite the obstacles, Black women are leading the charge in studying anxiety and fighting against the stigma of seeking mental health help. Here are some examples:

  • Dr. Joy Harden Bradford. As a licensed psychologist, Dr. Joy Harden Bradford created the podcast
    "Therapy for Black Girls," which has become a vital resource for Black  women seeking information about mental health. Her platform promotes mental well-being and helps to dismantle the stigma surrounding therapy.
  • Kanika Bell, C’97, Ph.D. Psychologist at A.T.L. Psychotherapy and Consulting Services LLC in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Keeba Gardner, C’2001PsyD,Staff Psychologist and Inclusion and Resiliency Skills Coordinator at Towson University’s Counseling Center
  • Amber Warren, C’2018mental health advocate
  • Briana Spivey, C'2019 researching mental health disparities in underserved communities
  • Destinee Moore, C'2009, LCSW, was selected to lead mental health cohort founded by Chance the Rapper initiative

The Road to Change

Anxiety, Black Women, Silent Struggle, StressThe struggle with anxiety among Black women is a complex issue influenced by historical, cultural and social factors. The hesitancy to seek help stems from deep-rooted stigmas and systemic barriers. However, Black women are breaking the silence and driving change by studying anxiety, creating safe spaces for discussion, and fighting against the stigma of seeking mental health help. By amplifying their voices and promoting culturally competent mental health services, we can work towards a future where Black women feel empowered to prioritize their mental well-being.

 
 

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