Why you should care
A frank night talking about therapy breaks through an age of cynicism.
Tune in to Black Women OWN the Conversation, an unprecedented “speak-easy” TV show produced by OZY and the Oprah Winfrey Network, on OWN each Saturday from Aug. 24 to Sept. 14 at 10 pm (9 pm CT), and catch 100 Black women discussing beauty, motherhood, love and mind, body and soul.
“I became silent. … After trying to pray it away, sleep it away, dance it away, asking God every day to kill me, I took another job and said, ‘I want to work here because they have great benefits, and when I die pretty soon, my daughters will be OK,’ ” Tammie Jenkins said. But when she finally sought therapy following two years of quiet suffering, she was able to find peace with the help of medication. When a friend asked her why she was now always so happy after receiving treatment, Jenkins responded, “Baby, the caged bird is singing.”
These heartfelt thoughts arose as part of the fourth episode of Black Women OWN the Conversation, which aired Saturday. The focus was on the “mind, body and soul,” and the ways these 100 Black women — plus actresses Tina Lifford, author Brittney Cooper and comedian Nicole Byer — coped with maintaining all three of those aspects within themselves.
Stigma around seeking therapy and self-care have historically abounded in the Black community. As one study conducted by a Connecticut researcher found, a third of African American patients feeling mild depression said their anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles and that their conversations may be viewed as airing dirty laundry in a way that wasn’t acceptable.
“We’ve romanticized our strong Black womanhood, but we’ve also romanticized for non-Blacks that vulnerability is a right for them, whereas for us that’s a luxury,” said Da’Nelle Hunter-Wade, an Atlantan who works in the entertainment industry.
Black Americans, particularly women, are opening up to counseling as a method of dealing with deep-set issues around trauma and mental health. “We lost our son. He was stillborn. And I was raised to be strong, and what happens in my house stays in my house. There were no examples of women going to therapy, so I felt like I had to be able to hide it and manage it myself,” said Kizmat Tention. “I found a group outside of my community, where I wouldn’t know anybody, to try to get help and support.”
Finding wellness can take on many surprising forms. Cooper, a Rutgers gender studies professor and co-editor of The Crunk Feminist Collection, goes to church and yoga … and has an astrologer and an acupuncturist. Byer, host of the Netflix comedy bake-off show Nailed It!, has her own secret medium for therapy: pole dancing. “I’m just trying new things with my body, and I like that,” Byer said.
Yet obstacles remain for those seeking help. Many of the women mentioned how they were told by peers to seek prayer, not therapy, to ease their concerns. “I see a lot of women hesitate to go to therapy, Black women in particular, because they think, ‘I should be able to pray it out,’ ” said Dion Metzger, a psychiatrist in Dunwoody, Georgia.
Economic stress and racial tensions compound for Black women significantly. “I want us to hold up a little bit before we do this thing where we start blaming ourselves,” Cooper said after one audience member acknowledged gaining weight during her depression. She noted a study published in the International Journal of Obesity that showed that even when Black women take the same diets as White women, they lose less weight and lose it more slowly. Stress slows the metabolism too. “It’s literally the racism that you are experiencing, and the struggle to make ends meet, [and it] actually means the diet don’t work for you the same,” Cooper said.
Even amid an at times difficult conversation, there were moments of light as the women reflected. “I have learned that hope and possibility are not just nice words. They are active, aggressive, powerful ways for us to own our lives,” said Lifford, the Parenthood and Queen Sugar actress.
There was hope for change too. “Mental health has been a stigma in our community. So it’s hard for me to make good public policy because people are not willing to talk about it, so I can take it back [to the legislature] and do something about it,” said Tennessee State Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis. “I’m optimistic about that today, praise the Lord!”