Are Black Women Killing Themselves From Stress?

Racism, sexism, and juggling too many roles is taking its toll on black women's health

black women
(Image: iStock.com/dolgachov)

Whether it’s the subject of a popular song or news reports, being a “superwoman” is something that African American women are all too familiar with. You know you are trying to be a superwoman if you feel pressured to be able to do it all; you feel overworked, overwhelmed, and overly committed; and you feel exhausted, anxious, and stressed to the max.The Superwoman Syndrome is used to explain the phenomenon of early onset of illness or disease among African American women, in response to persistent chronic stress and active coping associated with meeting day-to-day demands and having multiple caregiver roles.

 

Masking Up as Superwomen

 

Research shows that women experience more mental health problems than men, due to the stress of juggling many roles. Masking up as superwomen might be killing black women, whether it’s as the result of heart disease, other life-threatening illnesses, or severe depression that could potentially lead to suicide. According to Lottie Joiner’s post at The Root, stress accelerates the aging of black female bodies, and black women between the ages of 45 and 55 are “biologically 7.5 years older than white women” of the same age.

The reality is that black women have higher rates of many illnesses, such as hypertension, breast cancer at young ages, diabetes, stroke, and lupus.  Since 1995, the Black Women’s Health Study, out of the Boston University Stone Epidemiology Center, has recognized that need and has continued working to answer these questions. The BWHS gathers information on many conditions that affect black women—breast cancer, lupus, premature birth, hypertension, colon cancer, diabetes, uterine fibroids—the list is long.

 

Discrimination Tied to Stress, Poor Health

 

In fact, research shows that racial and ethnic minorities have health that is worse overall than the health of white Americans. Perceived discrimination (i.e. work place, gender-, race/ethnicity-, and sexual orientation-based), has been found to be a key factor in chronic, stress related health disparities and mental health disorders. What’s more, perceived discrimination/racism has been shown to play a role in unhealthy behaviors, such cigarette smoking, alcohol/substance use, improper nutrition, and refusal to seek medical services.

According to a report by Lantern, a web-based therapy company, women are 11% more stressed and 16% more anxious than males. The younger you are, the less emotionally well you’re likely to be, with 18-24-year-olds having 25% higher social anxiety, 19% higher levels of depression, 11% more stress, and 13% are less happy than average males in high positions.

The ability to maintain a healthy work and home life balance may seem impossible to women in high profile positions, but developing healthy coping skills help and get easier with practice and positive reinforcement. Mediation, acupuncture, and regular spa days will do the mind and body good. And seek mental health counseling or life coaching—which is a not a sign that you’re weak or crazy—when stress starts to affect your mood, activity, sleep, eating habits, or weight.