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Dear Black Women: Therapy is Not Weakness

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As a Black woman, mental health awareness for me didn’t exist until college. Terms like “therapy, mental health, and mental illness,” were (and still are) shameful things born of years of white supremacy and misogyny. Studies trace the root of mental health stigma among Black people back to slavery when white people told themselves enslaved people weren’t sophisticated enough to suffer things like depression or anxiety. Dehumanizing their “property” was a good way to rationalize abusing and exploiting it.


Today Black women are still taught to conceal our emotions and put our mental health on the back burner for everyone else. The alternative is to be seen as weak and be shamed for it. For those of us living as neuro-divergent Black women, the problem is even more complicated. I struggled with undiagnosed anxiety as a child, and I still deal with the consequences of that delay. In fact, it wasn’t until college that I got a proper diagnosis and was able to begin the work to heal myself. That path first required unlearning community stigmas. 


Black women are taught to conceal what we feel and balance the struggles of the community on our shoulders, metaphorically and literally. I remember words like ‘depression’ and ‘therapy’ coming up in conversation with other Black girls as far back as elementary school.  We all believed those were weak ‘white people’ concepts. We had watched our own mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and older cousins shoulder the world without shaking; and we were all proud to speak on behalf of the ‘strong’ women in our family. In a way, we were bragging that they didn’t need help and that when we grew older, we wouldn’t need help either. We wouldn’t need anything like therapy. We were Black women.  

Looking back, I realize now how embedded these harmful ideas were in our community, and how Black girls are pushed into this toxic mindset at a young age.  As someone on the autism spectrum and already struggling with anxiety, it made the denial even worse.


My grandmother was strong in every sense of the word and did everything for everyone. She was an active member of church organizations, charity groups and committees, and she worked at an organization focused on helping lower-class and house-less people in our community. Almost 10 years ago, she was diagnosed with dementia. Last summer, she passed away.  As I wrote her obituary, I realized how hard she worked in her lifetime. For all I know, the stress of doing so much may have contributed to her dementia.   


I was on track for the same path. I spent my last semester of college juggling seven classes to graduate by a deadline. Given the stress, I could no longer ignore my mental health. I stepped over the stigma, shame, and the façade Black women often believe we must maintain, and I took the first steps to see a therapist.  


That is when my journey to full health began. Therapy is where I got an official anxiety and depression diagnosis, and it is where I also began my autism diagnosis testing, But I first had to shed the shame and address my mental health. I also had to dissolve the narrative that, as a Black woman, I must be strong and alone. 


Today I question the lack of mental health awareness in the Black community, specifically when it comes to Black women and conditions like anxiety, depression, and autism. Things are different for me now, and I’m happy I’ve gotten help. But I hope my story can help other Black women realize that nobody should fight these battles alone. 


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