Monday, September 26, 2011

Starting the Conversation

Hello everyone!

I’m a very down-to earth, laid back person who is not a fan of formalities, so I’m going to be real with you all. I HAD SUCH a hard time writing this blog entry! There is such a wealth of information out there about cultural diversity issues and mental illness…which is GREAT! However, I was completely overwhelmed and intimidated about what to write about. There is so much that I could share…so many fascinating articles, videos, organizations, performances, and initiatives that I didn’t know what to choose from. In all honesty, I’ve written this entry about four times with four different topics and abandoned them all. I felt like none of them were good enough, or focused enough (there’s that happy ADHD again), or long enough. So, here’s what I decided:

  1. I’m going to be easy on myself about this.
  2.  I’m going to be open, and discuss the deepest truth going on with me, hoping that me sharing it will inspire, inform, and spark curiosity and good discussion.
  3. All of my entries will not have something to do with me, but this one will.

After affirming those thoughts, the first thing I did was Google the two things on my mind the most: ADHD and AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN.

Here’s what I found: NOT MUCH.

Very little research has been done on ADHD and women of color, specifically African American and Latino women. The limited research that exists states that women in general are often under identified and/or misdiagnosed, which is even more so the case with women of color. Reading over some of the message boards, I learned that many women like myself were diagnosed in adulthood; also like myself, they were relieved because it gave an explanation to so much about their lives. Yet after the diagnosis, they felt alone and without support due to the lack of information and also the unfortunate stigma in the African American community towards mental illness.

While stigma exists toward all mental illness, there’s an even bigger stigma toward African American women and mental illness. My thought is that the stigma is perpetuated by the “Superwoman Syndrome,” as I call it. I feel that within the African American community, women are expected to be extremely strong, resilient, self-reliant, and capable of managing everything in their lives with ease. Exposing that you are hurting, sick, or in trouble is considered weak and looks like incompetency. The idea of “sister, pull yourself together, “ or “just deal with it,” is often replaced for disclosing to a friend what’s happening, or seeking treatment. The result is that often women don’t get help, and they suffer even greater for it.

What specifically stinks about African American women and ADHD is this: it’s very hard to be an effective Superwoman with ADHD. (Oh…if you are not quite familiar with Adult ADHD…click here for an amazing website.) Living in a world that has expectations completely opposite of the way your brain works, you find yourself often swimming upstream. And as an African American woman, that is simply unacceptable sometimes. People don’t get why you can’t complete tasks when you say you will, or you’re late all of the time, or are so inconsistent in many aspects of your life. You often feel like a failure, and with the whole superwoman pressure on you, you feel like an even bigger failure. The whole idea of “sister, get yourself together,” is a joke, because there are often so many things that need to be “pulled together” that mental illness won’t allow. It’s really frustrating, to say the least.

After pondering on this a bit, I thought about one of the questions I asked in my last blog post: What efforts are being taken to disarm this stigma?
  • Well...there’s an online support group called (I’m totally joining!) Women are voicing their concerns, and through discussion, much-needed support and answers are forming.
  • The short video below by Terrie Williams discussing her book, BLACK PAIN: It just looks like we’re not hurting. In this video, she inspires African Americans to start the conversation about mental illness, so we don’t feel alone:

  • And also - this blog entry, YAY! Sometimes, all we can do is just be open and honest. There may not be a solution to solving a particular problem right away, but just talking about it is a start.

In sharing my thoughts, I have started the conversation. I hope you will join me in the discussion; I’d love for you to share. 


Rhonda Marie

Rhonda Marie Bynum is a member of ETD's Ambassador Council as well as an ensemble member who has appeared onstage with ETD numerous times. Click here to read more posts from Rhonda Marie.

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