5 Black Women on Why It’s Essential to Prioritize Mental Health During Black History Month—And How They Do It
To say that 2020 was a lot for the Black community is the understatement of the century: the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected (and continues to affect) Black, Indigenous, and people of color; videos of Black women and men being killed at the hands of the law and receiving no justice dominated the news cycle; unemployment rates skyrocketed for those with bills to pay and families to feed; and a volatile political climate—one that produced the most consequential election in the history of the US—further divided the nation.
On top of all that, the Black community already has a full-time job: dealing with past racial trauma and the day-to-day struggles of being an American citizen. So it's understandable how and why some of us could fall to the wayside while maintaining our mental health. That racial trauma "causes fear, hypervigilance, shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression," Arabia Mollette, MD, emergency medicine physician at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York tells Health, "Black [and] Indigenous communities and other people of color experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and barriers including discrimination and marginalization."
Black History Month in particular—though it's meant to uplift the legacies of innovators, leaders, and cultivators of the Black community—can also have an impact on mental health. "It can feel forced and inauthentic. We see the lovely messaging that companies put out while knowing that the same company has racist hiring practices or donated to racist politicians," Margaret Seide, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist in New York City, tells Health. "It can be so that those politically-correct Black History Month messages reminds Black [people] of the racism that is part of the fiber of this country."
Black women in particular are often expected to feign "holding it together"—even as the world seems to fall apart around them. But during Black History Month, a time where racial trauma is triggered yet Black excellence is highlighted, it's important to protect the mind, bodies, and souls of Black women who work in various fields and may be impacted by the lasting effects of being Black in America. Here, five Black women across various fields and occupations from the frontlines to freelancing full-time reveal their mental health strategies in their careers, and their healthy coping mechanisms while observing Black History Month and acknowledging the presence of racial trauma.
"I plan to focus on the positive and incredible contributions that Black people have made."
As a certified life coach and meditation instructor, Kelley Green makes her mental health a priority on a day-to-day basis. The self-love advocate and yoga influencer is well versed in the world of spirituality and guided meditations, and recognizes the relationship between mental health and the art of meditation. "Studies have shown that there is a correlation between enhanced mental health and meditation, and as a practitioner who meditates and instructs others on how to enjoy the practice as well, I've witnessed many benefits over the years," she tells Health. According to Green, these benefits have included stress and anxiety relief, improved mood, better focus and reducing emotional and physical tension.
Though she routinely implements mindfulness and practices mindset, the Rise in Color founder is first and foremost a Black woman who acknowledges her role and part in the Black community. During today's cultural climate, she's often called upon by clients and organizations to lead meditations and guide and encourage them to incorporate mindset and mindfulness practices into their daily lives. But in order to present her best self to others, she must first take care of herself. "I plan to limit explicit images and videos of abusive racist acts against Black people that have taken place," she says. "Instead, I plan to focus on the positive and incredible contributions that Black people have made, along with meditating for at least 15 minutes per day, by either listening to a guided meditation or engaging in a movement meditation like yoga."
"I like to focus on the beauty of being Black."
Jordan Madison, LCMFT is a licensed marriage therapist who works in mental health on a daily basis as she navigates through clients' marital endeavors. Madison sees her career as an opportunity to practice what she preaches as far as mental wellness is concerned. "I cannot hold space for their emotions and pour into them, if I am not taking the time to pour into myself," she tells Heatlh. "Of course there are times where my work can feel heavy or draining, but knowing that I am living in my purpose makes it worth it." As the creator of Therapy is my J.A.M., Madison knows the importance of managing your mental health and is a necessary voice in the stigma removal of therapy in the Black community.
During Black History Month, while she admittedly feels exhausted and emotionally weighed down, Madison flips the script by choosing to focus on a more positive outlook. "In order to prioritize my mental health, especially during Black History Month, I like to focus on the beauty of being Black," she says. "Not just our resilience and strength, but our creativity and ability to find joy. In doing so, it helps me to think positively, express gratitude, and not allow myself to internalize the negative messages society so often communicates around Black lives." Madison also practices mental wellness by setting boundaries, self-care, and relying on her communities.
"I want to take it a step further and start therapy again."
As a content strategist for R29 Unbothered, an online community for Black millennial women, Venesa Coger has the opportunity to share a wellness space with like-minded creative Black women. "I'm grateful to be on a team with women who champion taking time and space for themselves," she tells Health.
That community provided a safe mental space for Coger during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests for Breonna Taylor and George Floyd over the summer. "I was constantly alert and trying to give our audience a safe place where they could express themselves on our platform," she says. "Many times, I found myself also needing a moment and safe space to deal with the heartbreaking news and many of those times it was my team and I uplifting each other that helped us get through."
For Black History Month, Coger intends on continuing to express her thoughts and feelings—both at work and on her own time. "My goal is to evaluate my day from my highs, my lows, and ways that the next day will be better. I want to continue doing that for Black History Month, but I also want to take it a step further and start therapy again," she says. "Over the last few months I've gone through so many changes, mostly positive, [and] I feel like it's time to talk more about it."
"I focus on good and grace that Black people have done—and show my students that they can do it too.'
For Amber Corrine McEachin, a pre-kindergarten teacher in New Jersey, Black History Month is not just about reminding herself of the contributions of the Black community—she must also teach the children she works with. "I plan to continue to teach my students about those Black leaders in our history that stood for everything opposite than the negativity that they are seeing on the news or hearing their parents discuss," she tells Health. Throughout her lesson plans, she intends on teaching a medley of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the modern day activists and Black leaders including the Obamas, Tamika Mallory and Lebron James.
McEachin also plans to use Black History Month as an opportunity to show her students the importance of proritizing mental health at an early age."Not only do I prioritize my mental health by focusing on the good and grace that Black people have done, but also showing my students that they can do it too," she says. "When I instill confidence in the youth that I teach, I help them to prioritize their mental health by not feeling inadequate or hateful towards a group of people, because of what they know of our history of racism to be in America."
"I have consciously chosen Black brands to support."
Safiya Lyn-Lassiter, MD, an emergency medicine doctor in Miami, Florida, and licensed medical cannabis physician is redefining what rest and relaxation mean to her amidst a stressful time packed with racial trauma, seasonal depression triggers, and a pandemic. She credits her "strong mental capacity" with making the necessary career choices to align and curate a solid mental, emotional, and spiritual health balance. "My ER work is more emotionally draining due to the acuity of the trauma but my medical cannabis work is especially rewarding since I have the opportunity to offer instant pain and inflammation relief," she tells Health.
Dr. Lyn-Lassiter says that an important part of her work is acknowledging the health disparities in the Black community, and working to correct them. "It is especially significant to acknowledge undiagnosed mental disparities in our community due to lack of trust and access to clinical physicians specifically psychiatrists," she says. "My intention is to target and identify under-diagnosed Black and Brown mental health patients who could be candidates for medical marijuana and help them secure appropriate treatment."
In addition to working directly with patients in need, Dr. Lyn-Lassiter has also vowed to support more Black businesses during Black History Month. A few of her favorites include Brown Girl Jane's HEAL Whipped Body Butter, Liweli's Berry Good Stuff CBD drink supplement, and 30 and Gold's athleisure and activewear.
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