By: Chantelle Ndaba
“Depression: A mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and objection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of sleep.”
The Oxford Dictionary definition of depression above, explains a disease that millions battle against on a daily basis, and this definition is the very basis of why many black women hide their depression from the rest of the world.
The idea that all black women are strong has to become representative of how black women are portrayed. Throughout history, beginning during slavery , the black woman has been a pillar of strength and wisdom that many have leaned on; while also ignoring at the same time.
It is not a secret that during slavery, black women were the prey of perverted slave owners. Those who were victims of rape may have physically survived but their emotional well being was in tatters. Without much choice, these women were forced to simply move on. The surrounding women also decided to ignore what had happened—supposedly erasing every single trace of the rape.
But how could she forget how the slave owner snuck into her quarters and burdened her with the weight of being a rape victim? The black woman can shed her burden only if someone else nullifies the existence of the burden and once that happens she has to move on. By not acknowledging the rape (or any other experience that is carried throughout the rest of one’s life) we cast away the black woman’s pain and by default a possible reason for depression. However, what many don’t realize is that she does not shed her burden—casts it away, yes, but never sheds it.
In the public eye the black woman has survived it all, is seen as the most resilient of all, and never shows weakness. Sheesh, what a list! By default, black women will adopt this as the motto of what being a black woman supposedly is. This is the same attitude that is carried down for generations because through every single thorny step she didn’t give up so you, the modern black woman, cannot give up. You have to live through it all, even if he sneaks into your room when you’re twelve or when they throw slurs at you because black people can’t be pretty. Why? Because you’re a black woman and nothing will tear you down—deal with it.
This character created by society is one every black woman must live up to, even when tackled by a crippling mental illness such as depression. This character is not lazy and does not need to rest. She cannot claim vulnerability, not even for a short while, because she must continue to be the pillar of strength that all of society leans against.
She will fight for her black fathers and brothers who are senselessly killed all the while living through the racism, rape, abuse, sexism and prejudice smeared all over her. During the day she is a solider fighting for her people but during the night she is fighting her own personal battle against herself. A silent battle that she cannot fight publicly because “Depression is the white man’s disease”.
Within the black culture, depression is something that does not exist. The entire black community is exempt from such a thing. If you’re depressed, you had better get down on your knees and call on God. “The church” is the only other place besides the black woman where everyone finds strength; not in a therapy session.
If you even think of questioning why God isn’t pulling you out of your depression you will be chastised for expecting God to do everything for you since “God helps those who helps themselves” and in the same breath be told that you can’t be depressed, black folk don’t do that.
This ignorance around depression creates an even bigger problem with the stigma around it in the black community. The lack of understanding the many causes of depression leads to us expelling the depressed from our lives and dumping them somewhere all alone thus adding to the depression.
Being alone is something black women know all too well. Many Black women must deal with being left with their children when the fathers decide that they cannot do it any longer. Being alone begins even earlier for most of us. It begins when our fathers leave us at a young age, making us question why we were not good enough for them.
There is no group so accustomed to being alone than the black women. We know what it is like to be alone within our communities and families. We know that fellow black women refuse to acknowledge other black women’s hurdles because we believe that acknowledgment means past experience and past experience means you need to be expelled along with the other women.
Through our idea of strength we do not realize that we expel ourselves from fellow black women—which is where we draw our strength from. Once we feel weakness we remove ourselves because we refuse to be the weaker link in the group. All of this leads to the black woman’s struggle with depression being two sided.
Firstly, society does not allow us to be vulnerable. Black women “gotta do what they gotta do” even if it means neglecting the most important part of your being—your mind. We, too, are part of the problem. We have become so concerned with the image of a strong black woman that we do not realize that there is strength in admitting weakness—whether it is due to depression or anything else.
Secondly, as a race, past (and present) racial injustices have put us at a disadvantage financially. Internationally, majority of black women are the breadwinners and by default this decreases the chances of us being able to afford psychiatric help.
We cannot afford treatment and so, find ourselves looking for solutions in substance abuse or toxic relationships. Either one of these leads to a destructive path which doesn’t help how the community views you and your situation. It, in fact, worsens your image in your community—again resulting in exile. It seems that black women just can’t win.
The truth (by societal definition) of the matter is: you can’t have depression because you are a black woman even if your race’s existence is literally being attacked and you can’t financially support yourself or your family because the black women before you didn’t give up and being depressed is you giving up.
But here is my truth: depression couldn’t care less how strong society believes black women are. When Depression and the right hand man, Loneliness, have you in their sights your skin colour doesn’t matter. So, as a black woman, you can be depressed. There is no right or wrong way to being a black woman. You were black when you were born, without any experience and so with experience you are still a black woman. Plain and simple.
Depression is a worldwide epidemic spreading across teens and adults. There is no running from it. The only way the black woman can move forward with this disease is through acknowledgement of the disease and education on the disease. We need to educate our mothers, sisters and daughters that this disease exists and that it doesn’t make you less of a black woman.
I strongly believe that black women are as strong as society believes we are, sometimes even stronger. However, there are many ways to being strong. Being depressed should never devalue a person’s worth.
My message is: to keep winning, black women must learn their own type of strength and then use it to break down the multiple barriers we have yet to overcome because greatness awaits. The black woman will prosper, once she learns that even the deepest and darkest crevices of her being contains celestial greatness despite any disease.