Depression, Black  Superwoman  Syndrome, and Suicide

Depression, Black Superwoman Syndrome, and Suicide

by June 1, 2015

She was the founder of For Brown Girls and, later, the #DarkSkinRedLip Project, as well as several online movements celebrating dark-skinned Black women.  By all accounts, she was a spirited, beautiful, trooper who inspired millions of women around the world to embrace their natural, God-given beauty.  So when Karyn Washington’s death, at 22, was reported as a suicide, disbelief, fear, and anger spread through social media circles like a wildfire.

Fellow blogger Christelyn Karazin lamented the loss as an indictment of the Black community and its Black Superwoman Schema that promotes seeking prayer over medical intervention. “You feel shame when you feel your mind is breaking. There is no safe place. To admit to any mental frailty is to invite scorn and mockery, accusations of acting White. Because only White people suffer from depression. Only White people commit suicide.  Black women are strong.  Black women are not human. And this is a LIE,” Karazin charged.

Some soothed the wounds of their grief over Washington’s death by attaching it to the sorrow she endured in losing her mother to cancer just weeks earlier.  But then Titi Cree Branch, the always smiling 45-year-old co-founder of Miss Jessie’s Curly Hair Products, reportedly ended her life, and the nation began to take note.  Depression is real.  African-American women, though referred to using descriptors such as “strong,” “long suffering,” and even “angry,” are more often masking overwhelming feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and fear.

A growing body of literature indicates that African-American women rely on religious beliefs and practices to cope with health problems including depression, with roughly 90.4 percent reporting their faith as a means of managing stressors.  Additionally, researchers found that the low use of mental health services among Black women was coupled with high rates of premature termination from counseling.

“Many African Americans are raised with an internalized sense of connectedness to religious values, which provide a sense of purpose, power, and self-identity,” reported psychologist Madonna G. Constantine.

Prayer and religion are often cited as primary coping skills used by African-American women in dealing with personal problems and in comparison with Caucasians, African-Americans are far more likely to endorse the use of prayer and spiritual coping strategies over professional or medicinal therapies.  But what happens when faith wavers?

In the case of Monica Deen*, weakened faith and an unwillingness to admit her issues to church elders – including her inability to cope – caused her to spiral almost out of control for several years. “Some issues do not belong in church – that’s what I felt,” said Deen, who found herself caught in an extramarital affair with her supervisor.  “This relationship was tied to my own lack of self-esteem, which made me feel like I could not end it.  I felt it would jeopardize my job and family if I did the right thing and ended it.  But there was no way I would tell the church and I felt like God would not forgive me.”

In addition to the emotional turmoil Deen felt, she spent four years managing hypertension and bulimia as a result of the affair.  The day she felt overwhelmed enough to plot her own death, Deen said, she found enough courage to confess to her husband. “I stood in front of him shaking like a leaf and crying hysterically.

Suicide continued on page 4

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