Black Women and Mental Health: My Personal Journey

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Trina Ramsey

Founder, Just Do You Institute for Women’s Empowerment LLC

I’m going to start off by dating myself. As a woman leader with over 30 years in the workplace (and the gray hair that I refuse to dye), I’ve been around for a minute. As I was preparing to write this piece, a series of scenes from the TV show Soul Food came to mind. Nicole Ari Parker played Terri, the successful lawyer who kept the whole family together, especially after their beloved momma died.  She was “the responsible one”. When something broke or one of her siblings was in crisis, she was the one to come to the rescue or pay the bill. She seemed to be proud of the role, and resentful at the same time. Can you relate? 

Teri’s superwoman cape got the best of her, exemplified by debilitating panic attacks. I could relate to her so much. I lost my mom to suicide at the age of 14. As the eldest of 3, I was groomed into that superwoman role. It took decades for me to see how it was hurting me. I was so used to saying “I got it,” even when I clearly didn’t. If work got the best of me, I’d close my office door, or retreat to the ladies room or my car, have a good cry. Then I’d reapply my makeup and get back to work. Mental health days were a sign of weakness. I just kept minding my business and got shit done. It worked well for me. Until just like Teri, it no longer did, and I was forced to get some support. 

Watching my mother succumb to her battle with her mind – I thought she was weak. The Black community did not acknowledge the importance of mental health. In fact, I spent decades hiding the truth of how my mother died. I buried it, and tried to mask my shame with overwork, achievement, and a perpetually sunny disposition. 

Thank God I eventually got some help. My therapist helped me to uncover the costs of my self-deception. Eventually I was even able to speak about my family’s story at a conference. It was a cathartic moment for me to let go of the mask and share my truth. Several people came up to me to talk about their personal or family stories. Truth heals.

Destigmatizing Mental Health Care

We are in a different world now. The Covid19 pandemic cracked the world open, revealing underlying mental health concerns that – like Teri and like myself – we had been avoiding. More people are starting to seek help, and the system has become overrun, making things worse. 

The pandemic also shone a light on the atrocities that continue to be faced by Black and Brown people at the hands of police, white supremacy, and white privilege. These are the vestiges of slavery and the ways our society continues to devalue Black people, use us up and then blame us for not measuring up. Black women bear a disproportionate share of society’s problems. We have been taught to take care of others more than ourselves. It shows up in our relationships, our workplaces, and even in our own businesses.

I’m grateful for organizations like The Nap Ministry and Therapy for Black Girls, and for authors like  Adrienne Maree Brown and Sonya Renee Taylor and many others, who help us reclaim our minds, bodies and spirits. I’m grateful that the next generation is better at speaking up and getting the help they need. I have apologized to my 29 year-old daughter for setting an unhealthy example of strong black womanhood. I thank God that she has an awesome Black woman therapist who is supporting her on her journey. 

As I continue on my healing journey, I’m writing a memoir about my mother and my grandmother, who died from alcoholism the same year as my mother. I now see them not as broken, but as the strong women who loved our family and were doing the best they could. I bet my grandmother drank as a form of self-medication. She could have used a good therapist too. I’m documenting my journey through my blog, Brown Girl Lost: Exploring Mental Health as a Black Woman in America

My sisters, please join the revolution to reclaim our mental health, take more naps, and get the support we need! Here are some resources to support you.