There's a stigma around depression. That it looks like someone visibly sad walking around with an invisible cloud over them. This is simply not true. Depression looks different from person to person, with an additional layer of complexity attached to mental health in the black community. More specifically, black women experience depression in ways that often times goes unnoticed. We have the constant pressure to be everything to everyone which leaves little time to be unproductive or even our true selves. We must be high-functioning. We must work non-stop. There's no time to be still, to be silent. Because of this, many of us experience anxiety and depression symptoms without recognizing it.
As a wife, mother, therapist, and business owner, I've experienced the numerous spoken and unspoken demands to have it all together all the time. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed with all of these demands that I fight to not get lost in the whirlwind. Since I know many other black women like myself face these same issues, I wanted to write this blog dedicated to those women, exploring some of the lesser known signs of depression we may have that we never knew before.
Why is it Difficult to Understand Depression in Black Women?
The way the world views black women is huge part as to why depression is not largely regarded by something that black women experiences. As previously mentioned, we are expected to be strong and powerful by not only the black community but other communities as well. In other words, we must be the quintessential "Strong Black Woman."
Source: CBC/artist Martin Malchev
The Strong Black Woman Syndrome
The "Strong Black Woman Syndrome" refers to the unspoken idea of perfection, juggling multiple roles, and not considering asking for help as an option. As black women, we are often praised for our strength. While our strength is amazing, it can also be a mask for underlying anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. This can lead to suppressing emotions and not seeking help due to all that comes with being vulnerable and let our guards down.
5 Major Signs of Depression You May Not Have Noticed
1. Physical Symptoms⚕️
Depression can often present with physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive problems, or chronic pain. It is possible to experience these somatic symptoms, which can be easily attributed to other health issues as not addressed with our mental health.
2. Lack of Sleep😴
Feeling as if you cannot get enough sleep or experiencing sleep disturbances are also common signs of depression. We may attribute this to our busy lives, but when it is unclear and persistent, it may be a sign of underlying depression.
3. Hair and Skin Appearance👩🏿
Changes in hair and skin are some not so subtle signs of depression as they can aggravate and cause a chemical response in our body that makes the skin more reactive. Hair loss and skin concerns such as seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, psoriasis and eczema flare ups may reflect an emotional struggle that's not immediately apparent.
4. Inability to Control Emotions
Instead of sadness, anxiety, depression, and stress can present as ongoing irritability, anger, or mood swings. It may also be difficult to manage emotions which can result in canceling plans, avoiding gatherings, and withdrawing from social settings. The opposite can be true where one experiencing these symptoms may attend functions but keep the mask of happiness on.
5. Unable to Concentrate
Depression can affect cognitive abilities which makes it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, or remember things. We can criticize ourselves for procrastinating or having trouble focusing.
Why Representation is So Important?
Representation matters in every aspect of life, and mental health care is no exception. This is where the importance of black medical providers and therapists comes into play. Understanding how depression presents in black women requires acknowledging the unique societal and cultural factors that contribute to our mental health experiences. As we have more representation in our providers, we are changing the narrative around mental health, transforming it from a source of shame to a road of growth and healing. We do not have all the answers. However, we can start the process of healing by encouraging open conversations about mental health that emphasize the importance of support and community. This can include creating safe spaces within the community for discussing mental health, sharing experiences, and seeking support.
How to Manage Those Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety?
Managing symptoms of anxiety and depression can begin with focusing on maintaining a healthy daily lifestyle that promotes wellness. As I have experienced many of the symptoms above, I've found it beneficial to maintain regular check-ins with myself to ensure that I am filling my cup first before pouring myself into others. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a helpful emotion regulation skill known by the acronym "PLEASED." This technique provides a simple and effective roadmap for managing symptoms of depression and anxiety. By addressing physical health, nutrition, substance use, sleep, and exercise, you can create a foundation for emotional well-being and resilience.
P - Physical Well-being
Start by prioritizing your physical health. When you're feeling down or anxious, it's necessary to address any physical illnesses or discomforts that might be contributing. Be sure to attend to any medical needs, get treatment, and follow your healthcare provider's advice.
L - List Barriers and Resources
One valuable strategy in the self-care journey is identifying and examining barriers and supports. By taking note of the barriers that hinder self-care and the supports that facilitate it, we gain a clearer understanding of the factors influencing self-care routines and making plans to address potential barriers.
E - Eating a Balanced Diet
Pay attention to what you eat. A well-balanced diet can have a significant impact on your emotional state. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar, as they can lead to energy crashes and increased anxiety.
A - Avoid Mood-Altering Substances
Stay away from substances that can worsen your symptoms. Alcohol and recreational drugs may provide temporary relief, but they do not assist with providing long term relief.
S - Sleep Hygiene
Prioritize good sleep habits and create a bedtime routine that promotes restful sleep. Avoiding screens at least an hour before bedtime is helpful with allowing your mind time to settle down.
E - Exercise Regularly
Incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. Even a brisk walk, yoga, or dancing can have a positive impact on your mental health.
D - Daily
Participate in these activities daily as well as others that bring you joy. By incorporating the "PLEASED" skill into your daily life, you can take steps to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. Remember that we can either focus on well-being today or illness later. You decide.
Black Women Deserve Inner Peace
I hope this article gave some insight into ways black women everywhere can put away societal expectations of our womanhood and strive to seek peace and well-being everyday. We deserve to live depression-free and we're going to make it happen! Don't forget to check-in on yourself everyday to ensure that you don't have any of those 5 signs of depression. We are all different so pay attention to how you're truly feeling and make note of how you're doing. Use this blog as a resource daily and you'll soon be on the road to having better mental health. If you need assistance with achieving inner peace, don't hesitate to schedule your free consultation with me today!
You are not alone. I'm here to help.