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African American Women, Mental Health and the Community

Stress, anxiety, and depression. Scary words. Words of warning. Words that say you are weak, lazy, making excuses, lost your faith in God,.

Fannie Lou Hammer in 1964

According to

  • Depression among African American women is estimated to be about 50% higher than among Caucasian women.
  • African Americans account for approximately 25% of the mental health needs in this country but make up 11- 12% of the national population.
  • The rates of mental health problems are higher than average for African American women because of factors that result directly from their experiences as African Americans. These experiences include racism, cultural alienation, and violence and sexual exploitation.

It is difficult to treat mental health problems in African American women. African American women often don’t take these problems seriously and therefore will not take the actions needed to address the problem. Many in the African American community see mental health problems as being lazy, weak or just making excuses for failing. To some, seeking professional help is viewed as a loss of faith in God. The history of the African American survival of slavery, racism, voter, and economic oppression plays a large part in fueling the myth that says African Americans don’t fall apart The image of the “strong black woman” as represented by historical figures such as Harriett Tubman Fannie Lou Hammer and Rosa Parks is still very real in the African American community and that image leaves no room for dealing with things like “mood swings” anxiety, and depression.

Instead of seeking professional help when in emotional distress, many African American women turn to their communities, family and friends and their church or religious community for support. Additionally, the lack of access to insurance, not enough coverage, or lack of access to mental health services are other barriers African American women often face when they do seek help.

Still, it is important understand that mental illnesses are very real and as with any health problem, left untreated, will only get worse.


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