You Don't See Me - Women of Color and Mental Health Treatments
Updated: Nov 22
I wear a mask. My mask hides my eyes, the gateway to my soul. It hides the tears that I cry at night from the pain I feel inside. The pain that is stifling. Sometimes it's so intense its snatches my breath away and I’m left motionless. My mask hides my lips. The ones that quiver uncontrollably when I sit and think about all that I’m going through and been through.
I hide beneath my mask as I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I long for all who have gone to glory and left me here. I mourn in silence; the death of my child as my ancestors did on the Manchester Slave Trail*. Hurt carried for so long that the stench permeates every fiber of my being.
It hides, yes hides, many things. It shields the emptiness of my heart. The true love I don’t have. The shame I felt when I learned of her. You know, your other women. The one, you chose over me, your family. It hides the abuse of my childhood and the effects of that trauma, like not being able to look you in the eyes. It hides my need to be invisible and to fade into the background of life.
My mask hides my questions and conversations. “Maybe life would be easier if I weren’t here”? The ones I have with the Lord. The prayers I pray. The conversations that I have with myself. “What have I done? How much can I bare”? There is more room. My mind is so full. I cry out for help. Help me!
No need…You Don’t See me.
Many women suffer in silence daily due to distress, pain and trauma experienced in their lives. Some would say, Hall(2001), that therapy for women of color is insufficient as it lacks cultural sensitivity. Women of Color struggle to find effective mental health treatment aside from disparities and that is reflective of who and what they are.
But most importantly, treatment that understands the importance of a dominant factor first, before much needed help can be offered. Culture. Who they are, what they are about, where they came from, “… Who are their family”? There is considerable evidence that culture and context influence almost every aspect of the diagnostic and treatment process (Bernal, Jiménez-Chafey, & Domenech Rodríguez, 2009).
“Therapist ethnicity has been regarded as a proxy for cultural competence, which involves knowledge, skills and problem-solving relevant to a client’s cultural background” (Sue, Zane, Hall & Berger, 2009).
Additionally, a clearly defined “Disparity” exists further complicating matters. A disparity, an unfair advantage or difference. In a national government survey (CLASP, 2015-2016), it was reported that 17.3% of Black young women, 10.6% of Native young women, and 21.8% of Hispanic young women living in poverty experienced mental illness. Continued research suggests that women of color and people of color are less likely than other races to seek mental health treatment due to race, discrimination, sexism, health insurance, and the stigma of seeking mental health services (NAMI,2022).
Surprisingly enough, studies have even indicated that a disparity can even take place among professionals in the care that women of color seek out. “As such, disparities can be rooted in inequalities in access to good providers, differences in insurance coverage, as well as stemming from discrimination by professionals in the clinical encounter( Health Aff. (Millwood), 2008).
Are women of color really seen, heard, understood? As professionals, as women of color, it is our responsibility to avail ourselves to all. The most reluctant population are those who feel invisible. Those who carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Their scars are heavy, deep, wide, and with long-standing history. Even iron wears out. Take time to know who they are, what they are all about and where they have come from. Once understood, women of color can be aided in determining where they want to go. Do you see them?
Cameron, Verney (1877). Across Africa. Despair of Slavery. Manchester Slave Trail. Richmond, Virginia. https://www.terrain360.com/trails/manchester-slave-trailu
CLASP Analysis of Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Public Use File, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2016. http://datafiles.samhsa.gov/study-dataset/national-survey-drug-use-and-health-2015-nsduh-2015-ds0001-nid1689
Cultural adaptation of treatments: A resource for considering culture in evidence-based practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40(4), 361-368. https://doi.org/10.1037/a001640143
Hall, G. C. N. (2001). Psychotherapy research with ethnic minorities: Empirical, ethical, and conceptual issues. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69(3), 502–510. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.69.3.502
NAMI (2022). Mental Health and African Americans. NAMI.org
Sue, S., Zane, N., Hall, G.C.N., & Berger, L.K. (2009). The case for cultural competency in psychotherapeutic interventions. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 525-548. http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163651.