THE STIGMATIZATION AND ROMANTICISM OF WOMEN’S MENTAL HEALTH ACROSS RACE
When we examine America’s views on women, especially Black women, and mental health, we might see condescension and fascination before any real empathy. America’s response is both a result and reinforcer of male dominance and white supremacy. Thus, it is crucial that we incorporate intersectional feminism into our perspective on mental health.
Because America is a patriarchal society, American women carry extra psychological strain. This increases women’s likelihood of developing mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. However, again, because America is a patriarchal society, it often chooses to eroticize these mental illnesses instead of treat them.
Historically, “hysterical” white women became “tragically beautiful” muses for male artists. Helplessness was seen as hot, and prescribed remedies would often involve some form of molestation.
This continues into today, when social media glamorizes self-harm with decorated cutting selfies and curly font poetry. These posts send the message that this pain is elegant and feminine instead of dangerous. This dehumanizes sick women and turns their feelings into the quirks of “manic pixie dream girls.”
While we may show a bit too much enthusiasm for white women’s mental health concerns, we still allow them to voice their struggles. Unfortunately, this space to ask for help is not provided to women of color.
“Being a strong Black woman doesn’t lend a lot of credence to you being a victim,” explained Jardin Dogan, doctoral candidate in Counseling Psychology and starter of BlkFolxTherapy. “Even when black women were being raped, tortured, and pillaged, the narrative was that they were asking for it.”
Dogan recently published a study on the “Superwoman Schema,” which describes the societal pressure on Black women to be in control and infallible. Beginning in girlhood, studies have shown that Black girls are seen as more independent than White girls. It also said that these self-sufficient superwomen would need less comfort and support than their White counterparts.
A heroic label may at first seem positive, but when society expects you to have everything together, it takes away your permission to be human. Dogan revealed how, underneath the illusion of the perfect superwoman are high levels of stress.
Dogan shared, “A lot of the times we have perfected trauma, we have perfected responses to trauma, and we have perfected dysfunction.” If Black women are socialized to hide their vulnerability, and the rest of society is socialized to look away, Black women’s mental health will not get the attention it deserves.
Additionally, the effects of race based trauma make Black women even more susceptible to mental health concerns. Black women are found to experience more acute and sustained anxiety than White women. In general, Black Americans need to seek psychiatric help twenty percent more than white people.
Moreover, White women and Black women’s different cultural backgrounds produce their own, distinct symptoms for the same mental health concerns, leading to frequent misdiagnoses of Black women by White doctors.
During the pandemic, mental disorders are on the rise. If your mental health is deteriorating, Jardin Dogan urges you to avoid numbing out and instead find ways to fulfill and truly treat yourself. Johns Hopkins recommends you practice this self compassion through rest, movement and connection.
If you would like to support someone who is fighting mental health issues, Dogan suggests you mind your language and listen without judgement. Often, that is what her clients look for when they first meet Dogan.
Dogan knows, “we live in a society where we are uncomfortable talking about our emotions and addressing our trauma.” However, “normalizing each others’ experiences and holding space for each other” can shift that culture. We may not be superwomen, but we do have the power to create dynamic, intersectional change.