As Black women, we take pride in our strength. For many of us, we have no choice but to be strong. And while strength is admirable, data suggests that the “strong Black woman” mentality could potentially be doing us more harm than good.
According to Psy Post, carrying the belief that Black women are innately strong is linked to increased risk of depression. The study, which was conducted by Yale Professor, Jasmine Abrams, uncovered a connection between this mindset and the ideology that self-silencing and self-sacrifice were characteristics of strength.
“When we were conducting focus group discussions, many women mentioned being Strong Black Women or looking up to Strong Black Women (in the form of mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, celebrities, etc.). What struck me about the discussions was how women discussed embodying this role – it was simultaneously discussed as aspirational and overwhelming,” Abrams explained. “Women spoke about how being strong helped their ancestors survive enslavement and Jim Crow and how it helps them navigate present day oppression and personal challenges. In the same breath they mentioned that the expectation of strength meant self-reliance, independence, and being overworked in service of others.”
While much of this may be true, after hearing similar explanations over and over, Abrams began to wonder what carrying such a heavy burden meant for the mental health of these women.
“I immediately thought about implications for physical and mental health and decided to design and conduct a new study to determine if women’s identification with being Strong Black women was related to depression symptoms and if so why,” the professor recalled.
The study surveyed 194 participants who identified as “strong Black women.” The data showed that women who agreed with statements such as “Black women have to be strong to survive” were also more likely to agree that “In a close relationship, my responsibility is to make the other person happy” and “I rarely express my anger at those close to me.” These mindsets were associated with greater depressive symptoms.
“Being a ‘Strong Black Woman’ has many benefits — but these benefits can, at times, come at an expense. The benefits are that the cultural ideal helps women to cope with challenging circumstances, helps ensure survival of families/communities, and makes women feel connected to their culture,” Abrams added. “On the other hand, being a ‘Strong Black Woman’ can be related to increased stress and maladaptive coping that can result in depression symptoms. Specifically, the ‘self silencing’ aspect (e.g., holding in negative emotions, pretending to be happy or okay when you are really not) is a pathway from strength to depression.”
Personally, the notion that I am a strong because I come from a lineage of strong Black women has gotten me through many difficult and sometimes devastating situations; however the results of this study definitely give me something to think about.