Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle has shone a spotlight on racism’s impact on Black women’s mental health and wellness. BGN reached out to therapist Sonia Ross, author of the book Master Your Depression, to unpack the interview and examine the nuances of how the intersection of racism and depression impact Black women’s mental health.
Why do we have this perception of successful people like Meghan Markle having it all together all the time?
Perhaps we’re disconnected from the fact that we are all human beings and no level of success can prevent us from experiencing trauma. No amount of money is gonna protect the mind or soul from being wounded. Meghan Markle went into an alien environment, as a very light-skinned woman, perceived very negatively for having a Black parent. Even though she may not identify as a Black woman specifically, that information and ancestry lives within her soul and was constantly, in my interpretation of what she was experiencing, being awakened and wounded. She didn’t have her support system, her community of friends, her mother. She was completely alienated and surrounded in this toxic white environment. Also with the addition of being pregnant, hormones are all over the place, so many biological and physiological changes, and she was alone. It saddened my heart to hear that she was going through that. Depression can happen to any of us.
Let’s talk about the stigma around depression in Black communities. Where does that come from?
In my book, Master Your Depression, I discuss this. We came from a rich culture. We practiced Indigenous ways of holistic healing, connected to community. If anyone became psychologically ill, there were immediate intervention practices, rituals, healing circles, medicine women, shaman, whatever the case may be. These are our Indigenous healing practices whether you may be in the native cultures of the Americas, or in Africa or anyplace else in the world. Then, we were colonized by people who are very binary and oppressed within themselves with a very narrow viewpoint. Colonizers took away everything that enriched and gave our enslaved ancestors the ability to heal, forcing them into a rigid and narrow view of themselves. They inflicted oppression upon the enslaved Africans to make them ashamed of their bodies in every way, for centuries, leaving no room to take care of their traumatic wounds. They were blamed for daring to actually have symptoms and reactions to extreme trauma. Fast forward to today. We carry ancestral untreated trauma in our bodies. “Nothing is wrong with you.” “Aren’t you a strong Black woman?” “You need to get over it.” “You’re fine, just, you’re fine.” I just got finished watching WandaVision, did you see that?
Oh my God, yes!
In one of the episodes Wanda was like, “I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m fine!” Right. That’s basically us. Put a “face” on it. Pretending to be fine can be a survival coping mechanism, to prevent dealing with individual pain that’s led to all of us stigmatizing those in our communities who really need help and are reaching out for emotional support.
The strong Black woman archetype includes shame about asking for help, especially when it comes to dealing with depression. Instead of putting the ownership of reaching out on the person who’s in crisis, how can communities be on the lookout for strong Black women who can’t be strong all the time?
That’s a really layered question. We have to acknowledge our own vulnerability and know that it’s okay for us to not be “strong.” Not being strong is not weakness. It’s not a defect; it’s us being human. As we fully embrace our own humanity, we can be on the lookout for other community members and be like, “Hey sis, you don’t have to do all those things. Are you taking time for yourself? You know you have a choice here. You don’t always have to say yes. You can say no, I need to rest, take some time.” As Black women, our choices were taken from us so I’m reintroducing choice. We have to unlearn moving through life out of obligation, in servitude to others. Servitude was our cultural context for hundreds of years. It’s how we helped our families survive when our communities were poisoned through crack and things like that, our men were being sent to prisons, and all kinds of violence was breaking out in our communities. We had to take care, it was about survival. I’m helping women to slow down, to bring choice back into their relationship with themselves and their bodies. As we heal, we become more present. Our community members can look at the Black women in their lives and say, “Slow down, and listen. I care about you. Let me know what you need right now.”
Single child-free Black women are dealing with the pressure of financial depression continually, working earning 63 cents to every dollar a white man makes, while caring for other family members who need support, dealing with high living expenses and debt from our own student loans, causing low wealth, which feeds the cycle of not being able to rest and having to be strong. For some, suicide is the only answer. If a single Black woman out there is dealing with financial debt depression and is at that moment of despair, what’s one tool you can share?
There’s so much shame and stigma in our society around being low wealth. Being low wealth is not a personal failing. Poverty is a policy. Society is set up to marginalize people. This world has enough resources for everyone.
Understanding that your financial situation is not a shame that you caused and that it is part of a society that you were born into is vital. It’s not a personal failing. I’d tell her, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Society is set up to put certain things out of certain people’s reach and make them unattainable and then put people in basic indentured servitude, a debtors class in perpetuity. Release the shame and know that you are part of a larger collective.” This goes back to the first part of our conversation. When we stop separating our own personal experiences from the larger collective and stop experiencing ourselves and our trauma and our depression and our oppression and our financial situation in isolation and realize that all of our stories are part of a larger narrative of what it means to be a colonized and oppressed people, then we feel less alone. Then we say, “Okay, let me get some help over this. It hurts. It’s hard, and I’ve been ashamed about this for so long, but let me get help and know that I have done nothing wrong. I’ve no need to feel ashamed.” I encourage people to talk about their money and their situation and take the stigma out of it.
How does your book Master Your Depression help Black women and girls who are dealing with so much right now?
I’ve written my book for Black women, to take us away from that whole “Black girl excellence” image, you know?
Uh huh. Black exceptionalism?
Right. I talk about it in terms of colonization, being taken away from our African Indigenous practices. Master Your Depression talks about the context in which we’ve been brought up, knowing that the people who raised us were victims of white supremacy and internalized oppression and they sometimes acted it out on themselves and each other and us. That can lead to depression that we hold in our bodies. I focus on ways to slow down and bring ourselves back to our bodies and put our experiences in their proper social and cultural context. We’re not gonna think our way out of this. We’re gonna have to feel our way out of this, connecting to our bodies, loving our bodies in spite of all the experiences we’ve had to do with our bodies to survive, and know that we are okay. We aren’t any less lovable no matter how many abortions we’ve had, no matter how much sex we’ve had, whatever we’ve had to do to survive. We are okay no matter our skin tone, color breast size, waist size, butt size…
Hair texture or length…
That’s right. All of it. We are okay. I wanted to bring all of that fullness to a book that was about us.
Sonia Ross, LCSW-C, is the CEO and Founder of Full Circle Therapy Services LLC, a holistic therapeutic practice focused on the unique emotional needs of Black women.
Link to Master Your Depression written by Sonia Ross: http://bit.ly/3pHpm5I
Follow Sonia Ross on IG @fullcircletherapyservices
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Jeanine is a Writer, Actor, member SAG/AFTRA, AEA, Podcast host, Producer, CEO VisAbleBlackWoman Productions, Certified Health Coach and Conscious Dance facilitator. Jeanine's mission, centering Black women's stories to preserve our legacies.