There are physical health inequities as well. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, in comparison to non-Hispanic white women, Black women are 60% more likely to have high blood pressure; they are twice as likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer and 2.2 times more likely to die from it. Diagnosis rates of breast cancer for Black and white women are about the same; however, Black women are 40% more likely to die from this condition. Black women have the highest rates of obesity or being overweight compared to all other groups; four out of five Black women are overweight or obese.
Yet, despite the increased rates of psychological distress and striking physical health disparities, data recently released by the American Psychiatric Association notes that “only one in three African Americans who need mental health care receives it” and “compared with non-Hispanic whites, African Americans with any mental illness have lower rates of any mental health service use, including prescriptions medications and outpatient services.”
The “strong Black woman” stereotype, while serving as a protective factor to shield Black women from the deleterious effects of other stereotypes, has a self-silencing effect (Abrams, et. al.). Help-seeking behaviors are viewed as a weakness or are delayed due to prioritizing the needs of family, employment or community.
In addition, due to implicit bias that is often present within the healthcare system, Black women may feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in a traditional model of care. Being encountered as a stereotype, even if the stereotype is that of “strong Black woman,” can have a negative impact on willingness to seek help. Abrams et al, note that “ [a]s a result of continuously conjuring resilience as a response to physical and psychological hardships, many Black women have mastered the art of portraying strength while concealing trauma.”
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