In an age where the topic of mental health is discussed frequently in the media and everyday society, black women seeking mental health is still tied to taboo ideas. Even though black women only make up 13 percent of the population, research studies have shown that black women are less likely to seek psychological services and are under-diagnosed with mental illness due to socioeconomic and cultural barriers. 

Despite the multiple traumas many African-American women face in their childhood and adult life, the “strong black woman” label is one of several barriers that overshadow the desperate need for woman of color to seek therapy in order to fight mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc.

So when a black women decides to face her mental health condition through therapy services, not only is she acknowledging that she needs help outside of her presumed resources of support (family, friends, church, community, hobbies/activities), but also, the decision to accept guidance from a mental health professional can be an emotionally uncomfortable experience. 

For black women, being misinformed about mental health services can prove a disservice for those who would benefit from a licensed professional to talk about their mental issues and condition. And while therapy is beneficial, it is also just as important for women of color (WOC) to understand the expectations and realities needed when seeking therapy. 

Whether this you are a first-timer contemplating getting therapy, or you need guidance finding the best therapy services, here are four tips black women need to know when pursuing mental health services: 

1. Money Plays A Huge Role

If you’re a broke college student, like I once was, or a single mother taking care of a household, financial burdens can play a role in black women shying away from therapy. The average mental professional charges anywhere from $50–$200 dollars per session. Even if one has health insurance, there’s a chance your insurance may not cover all the fees leading to hefty copays for each visit. Unlike routine primary care or emergency room visits, when receiving therapy, it is expected you see a professional on a consistent basis, every week or, at best,  bi-weekly. With financial obligations such as bills, mortgage/rent, school loans, etc., the cost for therapy may not provide the opportunity for women of color to pursue it.

Therefore, if you decide to seek mental health therapy, having the financial resources needed to have consistent therapy is important. Looking into programs that offer free or low-cost counseling services in your area or finding resources through your employer, like I did, are some of the ways you can ensure to receive therapy at an affordable cost.

2. Find The Approrpiate Mental Health Professional For Your Condition

Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), Psychologists, Psychiatrics and Counselors fall under an umbrella of professionals in the mental health community. However, in your mental health journey, it is essential to find a professional that is suitable to your health condition and needs. While a psychiatrist may be necessary if you were recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia (in which you may be prescribed with medications as part of the treatment plan), having a LCSW who specializes in trauma therapy may be suitable for victims of sexual assault.

In addition, it is necessary to know the differences and limitations of each mental health professional. With potential restrictions in practice or lack of expertise in a specialty, utilizing the wrong professional may lead to misdiagnosing an illness, under/overprescribing medications or rendering of inadequate treatment. Sites such as Psychology Today and professional profiles and reviews (LinkedinHealth Grades) can allow you to search for a mental health professionals based on their role, expertise/specialties, schooling, licensing and certifications.

3. Find A Mental Health Professional Who “Understand Us”

Throughout history and even today, black women have been the most disparaged group in this country, even in lieu of our accomplishments, gifts, and “black girl magic.” Even though traumatic events can happen to any person, the stressors black women experience on a day-to-day basis makes us more susceptible to mental illness. Poverty and crime in low-income neighborhoods, single-parent households, health disparities (e.g. miscarriages, diabetes, and hypertension), sexual assault and domestic violence have been shown to significantly impact African American women in comparison to women of other racial groups.

How many professionals are trained in identifying the stressors black women face and the coping mechanisms used to face these problems? How many understand the complexities of black women and mental illness?

As black women become more comfortable with seeking mental health, it is important for the mental health community to evaluate the necessity of providing therapy that is culturally-sensitive and curtailed to understand our experiences on both an individual and group level. Websites like Therapy For Black Girls, is one of many websites I found to be particularly unique in providing awareness for black women to seek therapy and improve their mental health. On top of the amazing topics discussed in the group’s weekly podcast, the website also hosts a directory of black therapists in most states to find a professional who is suitable to your needs. While your therapist’s race/or ethnicity doesn’t always matter, having a black therapist increases the likelihood that they will be empathetic to your experiences and understand how race plays a significant role in your physical and emotional well-being. 

4. Healing Occurs Over Time

I’ve realized that there is no “band-aid fix” when it comes to mental health. While there is no time limit of how long one should have therapy, it is important to know that even if you’ve completed all your sessions, even if you feel better about yourself and circumstances, even if things appear to get better, you won’t heal overnight. The healing process may take months, years, maybe even a lifetime. Taking care of your mental health is like tending to a garden during all four seasons. You will have bad days and good days, and your problems may not necessarily disappear completely. The biggest takeaway is understanding how you COPE with your past experiences and to not let your condition affect your social, mental and physical needs, so that you are able to live a full life.

As women of color, I attest that mental health awareness via therapy opens new doors to challenge the inner chaos that plague our psychological and physical well-being. Receiving therapy saved me from living out my darkest prospects (e.g. suicide, feelings of unworthiness, low self-esteem). But more importantly, the decision to receive therapy revealed my greatest moments of strength, courage and dedication. The road to mental health wellness is not an easy journey, but it is the most worthwhile experience for self-awareness, self-care, and most of all, self-love. 

For more information on resources to address depression, suicide and other mental illnesses, please click and share the links below: 

Call the Helpline Number (2-1-1) in your state for information on local and state programs that offer free and low-cost counseling services to low-income and underprivileged persons. 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Psychology Today (Directory of licensed therapists in your area) 

Beacon Health Options (Members receive directory of licensed therapists within network) 

Therapy For Black Girls (Directory of licensed black therapists in your state)