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The Pressure of Being a ‘Strong Black Woman’ Often Leads to Depression

“Being a ‘Strong Black Woman’ can be related to increased stress and maladaptive coping that can result in depression symptoms.”

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Though many of us have felt the pressure to live up to the “strong Black woman” narrative, a new study suggests giving in to that mentality could do more harm than good.

A new study reported by Psy Post suggests that African-American women who are “naturally strong and self-sacrificing” are at higher risk for depression in the U.S.

“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.),” said study author Jasmine Abrams, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and affiliate professor at the Yale University School of Public Health. “What struck me about the discussions was how women discussed embodying this role – it was simultaneously discussed as aspirational and overwhelming.”

“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,” Abrams continued. “In the same breath, they mentioned that the expectation of strength meant self-reliance, independence, and being overworked in service of others.”

The study, Underneath the Mask of the Strong Black Woman Schema: Disentangling Influences of Strength and Self-Silencing on Depressive Symptoms among U.S. Black Women, co-authored with Ashley Hill and Morgan Maxwell, had 194 participants, all of whom identified as “strong Black women.” Participants who agreed with statements such as “Black women have to be strong to survive” tended to also agree with self-silencing statements, such as, “In a close relationship, my responsibility is to make the other person happy” and “I rarely express my anger at those close to me,” which in turn was associated with greater depressive symptoms.

“Specifically, the ‘self-silencing’ aspect (e.g., holding in negative emotions or pretending to be happy or OK when you are really not) is a pathway from strength to depression,” says Abrams.

The professor was sure to acknowledge the positive aspects of embracing the title as well, saying, “Being a ‘strong Black woman’ has many benefits — but these benefits can, at times, come at an expense. The benefits are that 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.

“On the other hand, being a ‘strong Black woman’ can be related to increased stress and maladaptive coping that can result in depression symptoms.”

You can check out the full study here.


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