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New Study Shows How the Pressure to Be ‘Strong’ Can Leave Black Women Denying, Ignoring Their Own Struggles with Depression

depressionBlack women are far less likely to struggle with depression than their white counterparts.

That’s the inaccurate message several headlines implied when a new study found that Black women were less likely to report suffering from depression than white women.

Those headlines, however, can be extremely misleading by omitting one simple but extremely important word: Report.

The study, which was recently published in JAMA Psychiatry, utilized findings from a massive survey where women were asked to report whether or not they battled with depression at some point in their lives.

Researchers talked to more than 1,400 Black women and roughly 340 white women.

With such a significantly greater amount of Black participants, one might be quick to think that the Black women reporting struggles with depression would outnumber their white counterparts.

Even with more than 1,000 extra Black female participants, the national survey found that only 10 percent of Black women reported dealing with depression or any other mental health disorder at some point in their lives.

More than 20 percent of white women said they dealt with at least one mental health disorder.

When specifically focusing on depression, Black women still represented a miniscule part of the population that admitted to dealing with the disorder.

While nearly 10 percent of the white participants admitted to battling depression within the last year, 5.5 percent of Black women reported the same.

Another 22 percent of white women admitted to dealing with any kind of mood disorder at some point in their life. Only 14 percent of Black women reported so.

So does this mean Black women are happier, more carefree individuals? Is this an implication that these women are just as strong as society has always proclaimed them to be and that despite facing life changing obstacles and unique challenges, they are nearly invincible when it comes to emotional distress?

Not at all.

Black women are a population that has to fight battles against both sexism and racism, delivering a left hook and an uppercut to their fight for equality in a white, male-dominated world.

That type of stress makes it very easy to slip into the grips of depression, but the stigma about depression and other mental disorders in the Black community discourages many Black people from seeking help for such conditions or even realizing they have a problem.

The Black community boasts a lineage of incredibly strong and resilient ancestors.

It’s a history to be proud of but also a past that is used against Black people who are feeling suffocated by the modern day struggles of racism, discrimination and every day life.

Dr. Monica Coleman, a Black professor and author who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, once explained that just the idea of going to therapy is taboo in the Black community.

“Seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith,” Dr. Coleman explained during an interview on PBS. “There is still an active mythos of the ‘strong Black woman,’ who is supposed to be strong and present and capable for everyone in her family—and neglects her own needs.”

Dr. Coleman revealed that during one of her own depressive episodes, a friend told her that, “[Black people] are the descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage and slavery. Whatever you’re going through cannot be that bad.”

48a7iStock_000011423371XSmall_depressed_womanIt’s a message that Dr. Coleman said upset her and angered her even more.

“No, depression isn’t human trafficking, genocide or slavery, but it is real death-threatening pain to me,” she added. “…That comment just made me feel small and selfish and far worse than before. It made me wish I had never said anything at all.”

That’s the unfortunate reality that many Black people, especially Black women, face.

It has become so normal for some Black women to subject themselves to limitless sacrifices, emotional stress and excessive burdens that they often don’t even realize when they have crossed the line into depression.

So whether it’s caused by undeserved shame or a lack of realization, Black women are indeed far less likely to report struggling with depression.

They are far less likely to deem what has been presented to them as the daily life and responsibilities of the “strong Black woman” as depression.

They will rarely open up to find comfort in others when they have been taught to always be the source of comfort themselves.

Black women may not report that they are depressed or even seek any help or advice.

This does not mean, however, that they are any less likely to be in the midst of a grueling battle with depression or any other disorder.

What people are saying

19 thoughts on “New Study Shows How the Pressure to Be ‘Strong’ Can Leave Black Women Denying, Ignoring Their Own Struggles with Depression

  1. Thank you for this very much needed research on the stereotypical views of Black women and depression. There needs to be some work related to Black women who are brought up in the church, and how this effects the lives in an intergeneration way! Sharing…..

  2. The sad reality is that "The Strong Black Woman" syndrome is KILLING Black women….and yes, I said SYNDROME! Everyday, in my practice, I see the disparity in how black women relate to their own mental and physical health. It is proven in the stats on obesity, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Lets not even get into dysfunctions and disorders of the muscles and joints, which comes from the high rates of obesity and diabetes among black women. When you throw into that mix the lack of mental health care that black women receive; it's no wonder the mortality stats are so "depressing". But what's even more frightening is the fact that because of lack of education about mental health, many black women are walking around as ticking time bombs because they don't even realize that they are depressed.

  3. Rowena Burke says:

    Get Profesional help, isolate your triggers and stay active…maybe this will help the battle against depression…

  4. Such important points raised in this article. It's critically important that this issue be discussed. The pressure to be smart but not too smart, strong but not too strong, to hold up the family, the race and the world and not break, and not bend. It's very real. Combine that with the stigma that comes from religion and this idea that if you just take it to the lord you'll be ok, that speaking to pastor will help a woman deal…sigh. And the toll it takes on one's physical health? Oh my goodness.

  5. I've never considered myself a strong black woman, nor do I consider depression a disease. In my personal understanding of life and circumstances I consider black women "practical"; we do what needs to be done because we know there is no real help coming. Depression is merely our minds telling us that we have been wounded and it is now time to do what is necessary to heal ourselves; since we won't do this voluntarily, our mind shuts us down until we take care of it.

    I wasn't always of these states of mind, these perceptions came as a result of long term therapy, education as a Psych, biology and chemistry majors (no degree), reading everything I could get my hands on about the human mind because I didn't want to be "broken" or "crazy" and had to figure out why I functioned and suffered as I did.

    After I altered my perception of mental health issues that are not caused because of some physical malfunction (i.e. chemical imbalances, poor nutrition or physical damage) I took the time to pay attention to my internal workings and do what is necessary to do the work for healing or correction of the issues I was having. As I said, this is personal experience and research to determine what works for me; everyone is different to some degree or another and it starts in the body and mind of the individual as even identical twins do not experience the same things in the exact same way.

    I think the first thing that we as black women need to understand is that from birth we are in a war to survive and excel that is harder for us as we compete with whites in a white dominated world riddled with the Eurocentric patriarchal paradigm which we have to learn to navigate and teach our children to navigate as well. We also have to be constantly aware of all the pit falls and traps that await us if we don't get it right. Or…we could ignore everything about race, put on our mental blinders and with firm and decisive determination do as we damn well please and ignore the rest.

  6. Paul Wells says:

    Maybe if she listens to and helps her Black man in the struggle, the Black woman can move along better. The Black woman is sad and depressed because she out of her place. The problem is that this has become a Black woman problem and not a Black family problem. This society has moved the Black woman out of her position as queens to concubines for the kings and sultans of the world. Black women chose not to be wives, that's the Devil at work.

  7. JaDa Brown says:


  8. What makes you think black women chose not to be wives? I really want to know what evidence you have of that.

  9. Tyler Boyd says:

    That isn't true – all woman are equal – stop with the black shit.
    My grandmother was an amazing black woman who never said the word black, nigger, nigre, or otherwise. She also blended as an AMERICAN.
    I will say, many black women don't drink enough water, eat too much, don't exercise, have a bad attitude and use some of those words to talk about others.
    STOP being a skin color. Start being a woman and preferably a responsible woman.

  10. Tyler Boyd says:

    Martin Luther King, Jr., MY HERO, said I have a dream that my 4 little children will be judged by the content of their character. Have content and don't judge anyone else by a color – drop white, drop black from your vocabulary. We all have the same problems, some of us spend their money differently. Tinisha there is a difference between being a wife and being married.

  11. Paul Wells says:

    Black women are trying to define themselves in a world that was not build for them. Most women today are not looking for husbands, they're looking for a man…to play humpty dumpty with. Why is Single Ladies and all of these reality TV show such big successes? Do they portray Black women correctly? You're unhappy with your Black man, now you're unhappy with more options. What's the common denominator? You. Time to change and humble yourself and retake your place.

  12. Rufus Rfus says:

    Since I am not a black woman, I can't say who suffers more, black women or black men. But I know black people as a race suffers more than any race on the planet.

  13. Nolan Young says:

    Dr. Joy DeGru Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

  14. Mia Douglas says:

    Some of these comments from men are pathetic. Not only do we black woman have to battle racism we have to battle our own men.

  15. Yes, what Tinisha D. Johnson asked. Please enlighten us on this theory. I know a lot if black women and I can count on one hand those that said they didn't want married (though many wont settle for nonsense). And I've known/know black women of all statuses that have gone through bouts or suffer as a condition with depression or other mental illness – like any other group of people.

    But let's just pretend your very simplistic, non history of the black family/ woman in the diaspora considering statement has merit, and that you are the expert on the black female psyche. Why do you think "all these black women left the role of wife?" Other auestions. Do you think they were happier in the good ole days of all that slavery entailed, or watching their husbands be degraded, diminished, or passed over, even now? Or perhaps they were less prone to depression when they had to catch the brunt of their mate's frustration because he had to hold all that in against the target he wanted to stomp. Im sure there was no way she could ever feel depressed when she had a hard time coming up with dinner from crumbs, or couldnt buy her kids nice things, even decent clothes because her husband once again was last hired first fired – but she was married though. Or perhaps they are free from mental distress if their man is a cheat, but she was the wife not the mistress? Or when she has to keep from him, to protect him, that she was raped – holding all that in and still having to perform as a wife. See how limited in understanding and incomplete and insufficient your "analysis" is?-its statements like yours that help prevent women who need help from getting it.

    Given all of our history – as a PEOPLE – it is a serious wonder we as a PEOPLE are not experiencing psychosis of every form in greater numbers. Even if we reported honestly, in comparison to what we've been through, those numbers would still be small. I put the emphasis on the word PEOPLE be ause there is no such thing as a "black woman problem" (as you put it), or black man or black child problem without it being a black FAMILY problem.

  16. Paul Wells says:

    I understand there was and is a struggle for acceptance and equality and so forth for Black women. But your struggle is also the Black struggle. You tell me at what point did these interest diverge. You have a different problem than women of other races. Once you label your struggle a Black woman struggle, you already separated yourselves from the collective struggle. There mere fact that you want to be free and liberated is a problem. Free from what, liberated from whom?

  17. "Maybe if she listens to and helps her black man in the struggle"….the black man's struggle is typically the reason for a strong woman's struggle and then plummet into depression. In her efforts to "help", she is often pulled down because of the excessive needs of our often broken men that make women wives and mothers, draining the very life out of their queen.

  18. When I went to the Dr and was diagnosed depressed their pills gave me hallucinations and all the talk made me realize how bad off I really was. I became defenceless against the thoughts in my head. Once I began to do what the bible says to do, cast my cares on God, take every thought captive and cast the bad ones out, stop worrying and start praying about I got better. My internal life is so much sweeter.

  19. Paul Wells says:

    I love sistas. She is my Mother, my elder, my wife, my sister, my daughter, my niece, etc. This world is against her. There are many Black women that are sellout opportunitists that set Black PEOPLE back as a whole. Real sistas must put them in check.

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