As we round up Part 1 of our series on Mental Health for Success, we explore some of the major triggers of mental health disorders. As Black females, we are socialized into different sociological stereotypes. These stereotypes are gendered and they influence the turn of events in our lives. Our experience of the several events occurring in our lives influences how we turn out, emotionally, psychologically and socially. Some of these experiences have been traumatic, causing extreme distress that offsets our mental health.
Trauma is a result of a deeply distressing experience that invokes an overwhelming amount of emotion that exceeds one’s ability to cope. It may be emotionally and or psychologically damaging. In the previous post of this series, we highlighted several symptoms associated with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. However, the stigma of mental health issues within our societies has often made women shun seeking help for their conditions, leaving them vulnerable to mental health illnesses. Hence, in this article, we look at traumatic experiences that the average Black female may experience and how it affects our mental health.
Gaslighting is a term popularly known from the 1944 film, “Gaslight”, in which a husband makes his wife think she’s going crazy through deceiving her continuously. It is a form of sustained psychological manipulation which causes the victim to doubt her sanity, judgment, and memories.
At its core, it is psychological and emotional abuse. However, it is rooted in social inequalities such as gender inequality, accompanied by such narratives as a woman should be submissive. An example is how a woman may continuously experience verbal abuse, where her partner cusses and calls her all sorts of names. His explanation would be that she is responsible for that. That she makes him do it when she doesn’t cook well or dress well, and or do what he wants. Eventually, the woman ceases to see it as abuse and believes that she is wrong. Such continued manipulation may extend to physical abuse or sexual assault, and still, she would perceive it differently as she starts to doubt her memory. When confronted, the perpetrator will always refer back to the victim that she is delusional and does not want to take responsibility for her wrongs.
To this effect, in many Black communities, cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, and unfair abusive treatment, go unreported as the perpetrators use gendered stereotypes to erode these realities. However, Gaslighting leads to the victim believing that they did something wrong which makes her be jumpy, and hypervigilant, in anticipation that she cannot do anything right. This has long-term effects on their mental health. It affects self-esteem, the ability to make decisions, and induces self-hate. The constant self-doubt and confusion may, however, lead to anxiety, which may escalate to depression when the victim becomes hopeless and gives up on self. At this point, they have isolated themselves from their social life and eventually believe that they are really crazy as they start to show signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following major depression.
Birth trauma is a form of stress induced by having traumatic childbirth. Birth trauma, if formally diagnosed, can be labeled as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following childbirth. It is estimated that 3% of all vaginal deliveries result in PTSD and 6% of all c-births result in PTSD, but that up to a third of unplanned c-birth may result in birth trauma. What makes childbirth traumatic is the severe loss of blood and mostly the fear that you – the mother – and or your baby will die. This is accompanied by extreme overwhelming emotions that include shock from experiencing unexpected events during childbirth. For Black females in some communities, this is also associated with limited access to proper medical care, that is, pre and post-natal care. This is most common in regions where culture dictates that the aunts and grandmothers perform the midwifery duties.
Women experiencing birth trauma often have flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive memories of the events occurring. Some may not remember parts of their experience, which may be distressing as they constantly struggle with their memories to reveal those hidden parts. This induces a state of emotional and psychological distress and leads to PTSD. As a result, women experiencing birth trauma, are often panicky, jumpy and irritable. They may also be hypervigilant as they fear that something may happen to their baby. All this distress triggers anxiety disorders and depression which is disabling and interfere with daily living. This distress may elevate to a severe form of depression known as Post-Partum Depression (PPD). Women experiencing PPD may have anxiety, anger, guilt, hopelessness, mood swings, and loss of interest or pleasure in activities. More often, women mistake PPD for ‘baby blues’, however, it may get severe as one gets more hopeless and experiences crying spells which may affect their fitness as a mother.
There are several other forms of traumatic experiences that may trigger mental illnesses. However, for Black females, the extent to which trauma is translated into mental illnesses rests on the evolution of narratives around mental health within Black communities. Understanding mental health also relates to understanding the triggers of mental illnesses. This better equips us to craft sustainable solutions that build our mental strength. As We Win Together, it is important to share knowledge on these triggers to eliminate the alienation of mental health issues in our societies. Moving forward, we further strengthen our mental health for success!