The Case for Mental Health Treatment for Professional Black Women

Each morning, the black millennial woman awakens and begins to plan the day ahead. She may decide to log miles on the Peloton or head for her first cup of coffee. She may flip through apps on her smartphone or utter a prayer of gratitude, yet in the back of her mind, the ubiquitous thoughts that drive her will soon appear, just like the sun signaling the start of a new day.

She walks to the living room and turns on the TV for the weather forecast. Without warning, “Black women are dying from childbirth!”, flashes across the screen. After her shower, as she adjusts the belt of her bathrobe, she opens Google maps to figure out the best route for her daily commute. Moments later, she lets her finger slide to the Facebook app and scrolls down the timeline. A post that’s been shared 100 times; with 10K likes states: “Black and single: is marriage only for white people?” Thirty minutes later, as she’s applying lipstick in the foyer mirror, she hears the ping of a notification proclaiming that “Trump ally held event handing out cash in a black community.” By the time the black female millennial is strapped into the driver’s seat of her car, the headlines have caused her mind to reverberate from the toxic onslaught.

She hasn’t even left the sanctuary of her home, yet the black professional woman has been mentally assaulted by images and articles whose focus seems intent on negating her very being. From social media platforms to reputable news outlets to internet trolls, her beauty, her body, her hair and her self-worth are constantly under scrutiny.

Despite voluminous research that documents the black female millennials’ academic and entrepreneurial prowess, the stereotypical narrative seems to be that Trump’s looming cuts in welfare benefits and other social services will further disenfranchise the black woman and her horde of illegitimate children. This penchant for negatively portraying black women as a drain on society, couldn’t be further from the truth, when stats show that black women outperform all other demographics in acquiring higher education and establishing small businesses. Despite confronting racism and sexism, black women have broken gender barriers, while advocating for progressive reforms that range from voting rights to the founding of the MeToo movement.

Unfortunately, in a society that sees “winning”, at all cost, as one of the tenets for success, how can the black professional female ascribe to the same metric, in an environment that is openly hostile to her? How does she continue to strive for personal and professional excellence, within a societal hierarchy that will always place her last? So in her quiet time, when she isn’t running a board meeting or checking travel destinations off of her bucket list, how does the professional black female really feel? What are the latent psychological effects of the misinformation peddled by biased reporters, that frame black women as problematic and congenitally disadvantaged?

I remember during my residency training, on one occasion I sought constructive feedback from the white female attending, who was my immediate supervisor.

After the veiled niceties, she asked, “Do you have a favorite group of patients?”

I said no.

She met my gaze and smiled widely, “Hmmm, actually I think you do, and I’m going to guess, it’s women…and more specifically: it’s black women?”

My heart began to beat rapidly. I wondered if she was implying that I was exhibiting bias. In a strained voice, I asked if there had been any complaints made against me for mistreating non-black or non-female patients?

“No not at all,” she chuckled. “You provide really good care to all your patients. But maybe you can give everyone that little bit of extra that you give to black women.”

According to recent statistics, in the United States, three percent of all psychiatrists are black. When a black woman, regardless of socioeconomic status, seeks mental health care, the person sitting across from her will most likely be a white male. Despite improvements in medical training, and the awareness of implicit and explicit bias, doctors will still have implicit biases towards their patients, which will eventually manifest in disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of various illnesses. In retrospect, when I was unwittingly giving that “bit of extra” to my black female patients, I was providing them with parity in treatment, a rarity that few will ever experience again.

In the face of the negative chatter and blatant inequities exhibited in many areas of American society, it’s important to note that the black professional woman isn’t free falling into an abyss of sorrow. On the contrary, she is eagerly scaling the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and continuously forging a new path, which is uniquely her own. There is no doubt that she is resilient, creative and ambitious. Nonetheless, ample attention needs to be paid to combating the forces that contribute to the corrosion of her psyche within the paradigm that is Western culture. On her trek to having a fully rewarding life, both in her career and in her personal life, the black professional woman is deserving of mental health care that is tailored especially for her. Who better than a black female health professional to know what it is to walk in the shoes of the black millennial woman?

A psychiatrist writing about mental health issues, through a black female lens.