Cultivating a Sacred Space to Achieve Health Equity in Mental Wellness for Women

By AeYanna Yett

When you picture who you are as a person and how you identify, what do you see? Do you see yourself as a product of the environments that molded you, or a product of the people you are surrounded by? Do you consider how you see yourself in the world, or where you fit or belong in the world? When you think of your answers to these questions, juxtapose your view of self with how others perceive you. Then, imagine how your environment, friends and family, and sense of belonging fit within society’s perception of you. Think about the categories that society may put you in, the hierarchy of comparison within each category, and where you and your identity may fit. Then lastly, think about how the hierarchies within each category form together to create a systemically hegemonic society, dominating, oppressing, and discriminating against those who are forced at the bottom because of their race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and its historical roots. Imagine yourself being at the bottom of that! Black women can!

Black women in the United States experience a host of complexities within their collective identity as the dual stigma of being both Black and female, and these complexities are deeply rooted in the historical impact of mass culture, sex-role development, and socialization as Black and female. As Black women age through development, they are subjected to unique forms of oppression at the intersection of their identity as both Black and female, such as gendered racism, gendered racial socialization, and gendered racial microaggressions. When coupled with exposure to traumatic events like interpersonal abuse, community violence, and sexual assault, gendered racism increases the risk of mental health challenges in Black women. Environment, community, sense of belonging, self-perception, and society’s perception of you matters and affects our health!

Traditional health treatment values whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, and middle-class status as the norm, leaving those who do not fit in these categories to be “othered”. Within mental health treatment, traditional care has resulted in the high attrition of Black women in receiving treatment for those who could afford it and if diagnosed, because of being “othered”, Black women receive underdiagnosis of mental health challenges and subjection to gendered racial microaggressions. Also, did I mention affordability? Mental health treatment is not inexpensive. Access to wealth plays a crucial role in communities’ access to health, creating an inequitable structure in receiving adequate health care and treatment. Because of the many oppressions, stressors, and challenges they endure, Black women deserve culturally rooted, empowering, and inexpensive mental health care that will holistically cater to their identity and needs.

My Albert Schweitzer Fellowship project, “Project Metamorph-SIS,” serves as a culturally-rooted community-based prevention and intervention program that promotes health and wellness through social support and gardening therapy. Utilizing Black feminist thought and an ecological perspective framework, this project provides a sacred space for Black women to find support, empowerment, and friendship while addressing physical and mental health disparities associated with stress, race-based trauma, and environmental inequities. In collaboration with the SASHA Center, through a series of group work sessions, workshops, and a gardening group, Project Metamorph-SIS addresses individual and collective issues around identity, education, nutrition, and healing from trauma. Overall, Project Metamorph-SIS works to increase access to equitable mental health care for Black women, validate and valuate Black women’s experiences, and promote wellness and health within Black womanhood.

The United Nations has established August 19 as Humanitarian Day. Albert Schweitzer Fellows at Authority Health submitted blog posts in commemoration of the day.