It is time for America to take healthcare more seriously – especially mental healthcare for Black women.
In January, a beauty queen took her own life. She plunged from the 29th floor of the apartment building where she lived. The world gasped and people mourned. Days later, another Black beauty queen died tragically in a similar manner. Sadly, more deaths have occurred since then, which highlights a growing trend seen more in the wake of a global pandemic.
According to a study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is a higher incidence of young Black girls attempting suicide, which increased by 15% in almost three decades, than by their white counterparts. How did we get here?
Ten years ago, I sat across from a white male therapist somewhere in New Haven, attempting to explain my life journey to him. Based on the questions he asked, it was very clear he did not understand me nor my background as a Black African immigrant woman. He couldn’t pronounce my name and had not yet been to any country in Africa. So, at that first meeting, there were layers we had to dig through first, and 50 minutes wasn’t enough time.
Somewhere during the conversation, he paused to ask me where in Africa I was from. I sat there, grief-stricken, and not feeling heard, having lost my dad the previous week. Living in a different continent very far away from home did not help at all, and I felt desperately alone.
As a former asylee, America was now my new home, where I lived, worked, and attended school while raising my two children. Up until that life-changing moment of losing a parent, I had managed to hold it all together for my family, but I was slowly losing ground. I wanted someone to help me through my grief. Someone to say, “It’ll be okay, soon… someday, maybe.” Someone to tell me they understand death and where the soul goes. Someone to hug me.
Unfortunately, the only person who accepted to take me on as a new patient was struggling to understand my experiences. As the years progressed, I comprehended how my Husky insurance at the time was instrumental in preventing me from finding a more suitable provider capable of understanding my needs.
Blacks from lower socio-economic backgrounds suffer more than their white counterparts when it comes to the quality of care received. It has become more rampant to see medical practitioners turn away from assisting people who rely on state insurance. Years ago, it took as long as nine months to get a therapist for a family member who required medical attention. This is a very dangerous practice for people who need support sooner, rather than later.
Many Black women and girls in society fall into this category and have had to deal with devastating events like loss, divorce, disease, and resettlement with no real support system to fall back on. They hope for assistance, but sadly, there is a complete lack of awareness as it relates to Black women’s experiences and their needs, making the situation dire.
According to the American Psychological Association, the “Psychology’s workforce is becoming more diverse,” yet the number of Black psychologists in the United States remains very low. In a 2018 survey, 86% of psychologists were white, compared to 4% who were Black/ African American. What this means is that Black people do not get a chance to meet with a person of a similar background, while experiencing a crisis.
It is no wonder the African American population is turning away from getting support from medical practitioners when things go wrong. They do not trust the system and do not feel heard or well catered to.
The same argument can be made for why doulas have become more popular in recent years. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy complication, than white women. The result is that because Black people fear the structures our society currently has in place, they are seeking alternatives. And sometimes, these alternatives result in the loss of their lives.
In Connecticut, the bill to declare racism a public health crisis passed with overwhelming support, however, this is not enough. We must deal with the faulty systems that enable these barriers, to the detriment of Black women.
As we celebrate women’s history month, it is imperative that we review issues to do with women’s economic stability, women’s health, women’s important roles in our institutions, and, particularly, Black women’s overall health.
Weruché George of Hamden is a member of the Connecticut Mirror Community Editorial Board.