Can we be honest for a moment? The last 13 months have been rough.
And by rough, I mean basically impossible.
Utterly and completely unmanageable.
The days seem to repeat themselves in this strange, nightmarish loop of pandemic news, politics, and social unrest.
Occasionally, something or someone different inserts itself into the cycle: The Royals, Forbes Magazine’s billionaire list, Cardi B and Meg the Stallion’s Grammy performance.
But without fail, after the dust settles, and we head back to our regularly scheduled pandemic-altered lives, the same stories appear on our screens and in our news feeds; and the weight of living in these strange and unprecedented times falls heavy on our shoulders once again.
After the year we have all managed to live through (and can I just say, our literal survival is worth being celebrated), every single person in the United States should be paying close attention to not only our physical health (friendly reminder: Covid-19 hasn’t gone away, in fact it’s on the rise in some states), but perhaps equally as important, our mental health as well.
If you have never tried speaking to a mental health professional in the past, now might be the time to seek out those services. Even if you feel “okay,” actively caring for and investing in your mental health should be as routine and as expected as your biannual dental cleaning.
But I do believe there is one group of individuals who might need a gentle reminder, or even a hard push, to check in with themselves and seek professional help in an urgent way. One group that often neglects to consider and protect their mental health because of generations of being conditioned to endure and be strong.
Black mothers—I’m looking at you.
In fact, I’m looking at myself.
By no means am I minimizing the importance of mental health for everyone else. Regardless of race, gender, profession, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, we need to continue the work of destigmatizing, seeking, and receiving mental health services. Whether we are feeling anxious, hopeless, or something else entirely, there are resources available to help.
But what I am saying is that Black mothers have carried a unique burden over the last year. And because of that, our mental health has suffered in a grave way.
According to a 2020 article published in Prevention Magazine, “Black adults in general (and Black women in particular) are more likely than white ones to report feeling sad and hopeless some of the time, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. But only 30% of Black adults who needed mental health care in 2017 received it.”
Seeking mental health services has always been problematic in the Black community for a variety of well-documented reasons: a lack of trust in the American health care system, a reliance on faith to manage mental health needs, financial barriers to health care.
But after the year we have all lived through, the Black community, and more specifically, Black mothers, need the help only mental health professionals can provide.
And in case you’re wondering why we can no longer afford to ignore this crisis, here are three reminders why Black mothers need to seek out and have access to mental health services now.
Covid-19 has disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities.
And we all know it.
According to recent CDC data, Blacks and African-Americans are 1.1 times more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with Covid-19, 2.9 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 1.9 times more likely to die.
The numbers for Hispanic and Native Americans are even more staggering.
But what does that mean for Black mothers?
It means that we have been more likely to care for and carry our families in a way that is particular to all mothers. And we are doing it during a global pandemic that has often left us physically ill ourselves, or worse, grieving the loss of life in our own families and social circles. That reality has left many of us without anything left to give. And the consequences are dire.
More Black families have chosen to continue virtual schooling for their children, even when face-to-face instruction becomes available.
While Black children are more likely to struggle academically with virtual learning, many Black families have opted to keep their children home from school, even when the school building has reopened.
The answers are multi-faceted and complex.
For one, because Covid-19 has disproportionately affected our community, we are more concerned about bringing the virus back to our homes. This is especially concerning if multiple generations live under one roof. The risk is simply not worth it. Our village is our life, and we will do everything to protect it.
Even further, the continued mistrust of the government, and by extension, the public school system in this country has led many Black parents to embrace virtual learning options. According to the New York Times article, “Missing in School Reopening Plans: Black Families’ Trust,” “Education experts and Black parents say decades of racism, institutionalized segregation and mistreatment of Black children, as well as severe underinvestment in school buildings, have left Black communities to doubt that school districts are being upfront about the risks.”
Because of this mistrust, Black parents and often by default, Black mothers, have had to bear the brunt of supporting our children’s education, while still supporting the family, often financially. Women are the heads of household in roughly 30 percent of Black and African American homes, compared to 9 percent of White homes, according to a 2017 American Psychiatric Association fact sheet.
Parenting is hard as it is. Parenting during a global pandemic, while managing a home, and a child’s education is unsustainable. Yet Black mothers around the country have been doing just that for more than a year.
There has been a continued attack, dehumanization, and loss of Black lives because of systemic injustice.
Daunte Wright is the latest name added to an ever-growing list of Black lives lost at the hands of a racist and unjust system.
Systemic injustice, while denied by too many, has left Black mothers (and the mothers of Black children) grieving the loss of their children.
Ahmaud Arbery had a mother.
Sandra Bland had a mother.
Tamir Rice had a mother.
Philando Castile had a mother.
And the loss is felt throughout the entire community.
From Trayvon Martin to Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Atatiana Jefferson, the names bubble up in our mouths like bitter bile, as we mourn over and over the senseless dehumanization and killing of Black lives. And the grief Black mothers across this country feel can only be understood if you have carried and birthed a Black child.
The fear we feel for our own children is palpable, and we carry it even while we simultaneously weep for the loss of another mother’s baby. It has become too much to bear.
I don’t know how much more we, as Black mothers, can take without finding a space to get the help we so desperately need. We need to process this collective trauma, with the help of trained professionals, because if we don’t, it will destroy us.
So, to my fellow Black mothers, I implore you to seek professional help for your mental health. It is not an admission of weakness or defeat. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is because of our strength that we must fight to preserve our mental health.
And to my sisters, and brothers, of other races, I challenge you to support and encourage the Black mothers you know to prioritize their mental health. Our society is stronger when we are collectively healthy.
We all know how much Black girl magic can change the world for the better. I’m looking at you, Amanda Gorman. And Black mothers, well, we have a special dose of it.