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If our elderly parents become lethargic and withdrawn, it is possible that they aren’t just getting old and may instead be depressed.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?