Elevating Emotional Well-being of Black Women Beyond BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month

Elevating Emotional Well-being of Black Women Beyond BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month

“How are you doing?”

That’s a loaded question at the best of times. Today, protests against police brutality and a global pandemic are both taking a heavier toll on Black bodies and answering how you are doing may seem insignificant. Your individual well-being may feel selfish compared to your community or your family’s needs. For Black, Indigenous and Women of Color (BIWOC), the needs of others may seem insurmountable as it is, leaving no time for ourselves.

Started by Bebe Moore, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month is recognized in July to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness in the United States. But that awareness cannot end with July. Black, Indigenous, Women of Color (BIWOC), including trans, gender non-conforming, non-binary, genderqueer and all those with gender identities that are oppressed by racism, sexism and misogyny, face harm and trauma daily. Despite systems of oppression harming us, it’s imperative that we make space for ourselves to heal. We must begin, today, with ourselves, to rest so we can flourish.

Start With You

When we always put the needs of others above our own, we limit our ability to thrive. Analytics company Gallup measures well-being using the Ladder Scale that incorporates almost everything in an individual’s life into their “ladder present,” or how they are doing right now, and their “ladder future,” or their outlook on the future. With this global standard used across 160 countries in the world, Gallup can measure people’s well-being on a scale of suffering, struggling or thriving. To thrive, Gallup indicates if a person’s “ladder future” is positive, that they have hope.

In its recently launched Center on Black Voices , Gallup is seeking to answer how we’re doing as Black Americans. Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton notes that “more than half of Black Americans 18 years and older (56%) are in a state of Net Thriving. This means 44% are either suffering or struggling.” Where are you on this scale? My guess is that “thriving” could feel a little hyperbolic, and that’s because BIWOC have to break through racial trauma and fatigue to even get to a state of “normal,” let alone to feel like we are thriving.

Racism Causes Trauma

As Wizdom Powell, Ph.D., shared in Medical News Today, there is “a litany of clear and convincing scientific evidence that racism, in all its perverse and myriad forms, negatively affects psychological functioning and well-being.” As Powell cites, studies on Racial Trauma in the American Psychologist, as well as the effects that race-related traumatic events online have on adolescents of color in the Journal of Adolescent Health , are giving us a clearer picture of the impact that centuries of racism have on Black people as a whole. This trauma has real and lasting effects on our bodies. (I encourage you to read her full article on racial battle fatigue and the need for a societal commitment to radical healing.) Trauma Taxes the Nervous System.

A well-regulated nervous system sits in “neutral” during the day. When a body is stressed, the nervous system kicks up the “fight or flight” response to manage stressors (APA). For example, you may feel calm and neutral as you get ready for the day, but a stress response is induced when you look at the clock and see you’re actually 20 minutes behind. This is normal.

Trauma breaks this system. Per the American Psychological Association, “Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body.” Trauma is a major stressor, and the long-term effects of racial trauma look “a lot like post-traumatic stress disorder.” Clinical social worker Brittney R. Cobb shared, “The symptoms of PTSD are similar to how the trauma of racism shows up in people.”

Constant “wear and tear on the body” impacts the nervous system, which can negatively impact other systems in the body (APA). This is especially true for Black people who experience racial trauma. Prolonged stressors can contribute to “irritability, low self-esteem, poor concentration, feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, anxiety and depression” (Today).

When your body is constantly stuck in fight-or-flight response mode, not only does your mental health suffer, but your physical health suffers, too. This “psychological stress in turn can lead to physical health problems — hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes and obesity, for example, which are all disorders that disproportionately affect Black people.” Black Americans experience these and other pre-existing conditions at a higher rate than white Americans because racism is a pre-existing condition. You may be asking now, “How can anyone thrive in these conditions?” We can’t until we make it a priority – starting with yourself.

Take a deep inhale and a long exhale.

Now, how are you doing?


Katara McCarty

From out of the realities of abandonment by her biological mother, being bi-racial and growing up in a Black home, Katara McCarty realized early in life that the color of her skin mattered. After becoming a single mother at 19 and finding the courage to leave an abusive relationship, Katara became an entrepreneur holding leadership positions in both non- and for-profit organizations. Today, Katara is a sought-after coach, author, and podcast host dedicated to cultivating cultures of belonging for Black, Indigenous, Womxn of Color (BIWOC). As a Black woman, she is committed to amplifying the richness of BIWOC and their stories, while also advocating for and providing emotional well-being resources for BIWOC, through her app EXHALE.