In the medical world, Black women often experience hidden racism. Because of unaddressed issues in the medical system, Black women may face implicit biases more frequently than other races. Medical experts are now beginning to weigh in on why this might be the case. According to the American Psychological Association, Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health disorders than white women, and this disparity has been linked to various factors, including bias, poverty, trauma, and racism.

Many Black Women’s Symptoms Are Pathologized

To pathologize something or someone is to regard or treat someone as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy.

According to Dr. Patrice Le Goy, a Los-Angeles based International Psychologist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, many Black women who go to mental health professionals for help receive responses that are pathologized.

“Often when Black women do seek mental health, thoughts and behavior that are actually trauma responses are pathologized.,” Le Goy said “For example, the cultural expectation for Black women to be Superwomen can be defined by a non-culturally attuned therapist as someone who is avoidant, resistant to therapy, or shut down rather than someone who is just doing their best to survive.”

Le Goy’s work as an International Psychologist focuses on decolonizing mental health. This includes reducing the pathologizing of responses to trauma and crises that fall outside the Western lens of what is acceptable.

Photo by: Clarke Sanders

Why Do Black Women Seek Therapy

There are many reasons why Black women seek professional help. The stressors of constantly dealing with micro-aggressions, compiled with layered, systemic factors, primarily influence the choice to get help.

“There are several reasons Black women may show signs of emotional stress — they experience high rates of both day-to-day and complex trauma, they are expected to maintain an image of being strong in the face of adversity, there continues to be a cultural stigma against seeking mental health guidance, and it is often difficult to find therapists and counselors that they can make an emotional connection with,” Le Goy said.

The Mental Health System Is Not Designed To Serve Black Women

The healthcare system —and by extension, the mental health system— is not designed to cater to Black women at the core. Lauren Elliott, Founder & CEO at Candlelit Care, and MA Maternal Mental Health Advocate said that even the most tiny factors influence the way that Black women are diagnosed.

” Bias and stigma within the healthcare system— including screening not being culturally competent to Black Women and our culture — influence mental health care. Many times, screenings are based on white women and their experiences, and because of this, Black women are misdiagnosed and are often perceived as being angry or aggressive, which can lead to misdiagnosis of conditions such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder,” Elliot said.

Elliot also stated that rather than addressing the root cause of the symptoms, healthcare providers prescribe medication to Black women as a quick fix. This is done rather than approaching mental health screening with cultural sensitivity and an understanding of the unique experiences of Black women.

“Ultimately, it is crucial that we continue to raise awareness about the issue of misdiagnosis among Black women and work towards creating a more equitable and just healthcare system that recognizes and addresses the unique needs of all individuals,” Elliot noted.