Many survivors will experience some degree of acute or chronic mental or physical health disturbance after their rape (Neville & Heppner, 1999). African American survivors reported fear, anger, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal feelings, low self-esteem, and preoccupation with the rape (Pierce-Baker, 1998; Robinson, 2002). These mental health problems can be exacerbated if survivors endorsed the Jezebel stereotype, as measured by such items as “People think Black women are sexually loose.” The greater endorsement of such beliefs among Black rape survivors were related to increased use of victim blame attributions, which in turn was related to lower levels of self-esteem (Neville, Heppner, Oh, Spanierman, & Clark, 2004).

Rape can also impair physical and sexual health and the quality of interpersonal relationships. For example, some Black survivors engaged in risky sexual behaviors, such as prostitution or sex with multiple partners, which increased their probability of experiencing repeated vaginal infections, painful intercourse, unintended pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. For other Black survivors, sexual trauma has been associated with the avoidance of sexual relationships, decreased frequency of sexual activity, and diminished sexual enjoyment (Pierce-Baker, 1998; West et al., 2000; Wyatt, 1992). Also, Black sexual assault victims reported higher rates of intimate partner violence (West et al., 2000), mistrust and negative attitudes toward men, and negative attitudes toward Black male-female relationships (West & Rose, 2000; Wyatt, 1992). Although researchers have found associations between sexual victimization and poorer mental health, it is possible that psychological problems also may stem from a dysfunctional family environment or lack of emotional support after the assault (Cecil & Matson, 2006).


Carolyn M. West With contributions from Jacqueline Johnson

Mental and Physical Health Consequences

The news of another Black suicide has me in tears this morning. The reports are saying Miss Jessie’s co-founder, Titi Branch, has passed away due to suicide at the age of 45. Reminds me of my dear friend Kay ( forbrowngirls ). We ALL go through heartache, but we don’t have to go through it alone. Help is out there. PLEASE talk to someone if you need. Get therapy. Your insurance may cover it. There are also countless community-based centers that don’t charge a fee or charge you based on income. Your mental health is as important as your physical health.

I don’t know her story, but research shows that Black women are (one of) the least likely to get professional mental health services because historically we tend to want to portray an image of strength and resiliency. However, admitting you have a problem takes STRENGTH. It’s hard to say, “I’m hurting; I need someone.” But it’s so necessary.

Please take care of yourself.

Did you ever wonder why so many sisters look so angry? Why we walk like we’ve got bricks in our bags and will slash and curse you at the drop of a hat? It’s because stress is hemmed into our dresses, pressed into our hair, mixed into our perfume and painted on our fingers. Stress from the deferred dreams, the dreams not voiced; stress from always being at the bottom, from never being thought beautiful, from always being taken for granted, taken advantage of; stress from being a black woman in white America. Much of this stress is caused by how the world outside us, relates to us. We cannot control that world, at times we can change it but we can assert agency in our own lives so that the outside world cannot over-determine our responses, cannot make our lives a dumping ground for stress.
—  Opal Palmer Adisa, "Rocking in the Sunlight: Stress and Black Women" 

As recently as the early 1990s, if you were born deaf, nobody would know for years. Parents were left to realize that something was amiss when their toddlers were not learning to talk or communicate at a normal pace. A diagnosis that late meant many deaf children never fully developed the ability to use language.

Today, things are drastically different for hard-of-hearing children, thanks to the efforts of a remarkable woman named Dr. Marion Downs.

It was just chance that Downs ended up as an audiologist. In the 1930s, she dropped out of college to marry and have children. When her children were old enough to spend their days in school, she wrapped up her bachelor’s degree and headed to the University of Denver to register for graduate school.

"It was right after World War II, and there were GIs standing in miles of lines for different departments. And I said, ‘I’ll find a short line,’ " Downs told Colorado Public Radio in 2011. “So I found a short line that was speech pathology and audiology.”

She was a woman in a field dominated by men — and a mother surrounded by audiologists who insisted it made no difference whether hearing loss was detected at birth or years into a child’s life. Downs didn’t believe that, but it would be decades before research proved her right.

Remembering The Pioneering Audiologist Who Tested Hearing At Birth

Photo credit: Marion Downs Center



She is 76 years old “he started working out in her 50′s which truly shows no one is ever too old to get fit! She was trained by a former Mr. America.” “She runs 10 miles or more a day? How many of us can’t even run 1 mile at a time?”

“If we, as women and men, truly look to our elders, like Mrs. Ernestine Shepherd, we could learn so much. Its time that we, as people, find a true purpose. We write so much on the negative issues in our world, when we there are wonderful examples of the good side of our world like Mrs. Shepherd. If we could really focus on self preservation, respecting others and helping others in what we do, God would be so pleased. Let’s get inspired by this angel of a woman that should make anyone jump up and get a heads start on being fit for life. We’re running at this moment….!! Lol”

A recent study on black women in America delivered a mixed, even contradictory message. The report from the Black Women’s Roundtable found that while black women in the United States are making strides in education and business and affecting political trends with stellar voter turnout numbers, they remain more vulnerable to health problems and violence than any other group. Their strength at the polls is not reflected in elected positions. So, the situation is — at the same time — hopeful and frustrating, many steps forward with persistent, historical hurdles still blocking the way.
What is at first glance confusing makes perfect sense, though. Despite the reality show image of sassy, in control and intimidating black women taking charge and needing no help from anyone, the American story is consistent with the study. It is a tale of black women as invisible, misjudged and resilient through it all –integral and nurturing, yet set apart. They have survived, thrived and led, in spite of obstacles that have often kept them vulnerable, a term seldom used to describe black women.

Powerful yet vulnerable black women: A contradiction rooted in history

To raise awareness about the 80% of black women who suffer from fibroids, we’d love for you to upload selfies and other photos of yourself in a white dress in the comments section. And wear a white dress TOMORROW, Thursday, July 10, in commemoration of Fibroids Awareness Month — first in Georgia and eventually nationwide. In our 3-part series on fibroids, check out organizations fighting fibroids and read why Tanika Gray Valbrun founded The White Dress Project: We CAN Wear White: #FightFibroids #WeCanWearWhite #FierceHealth

Stereotypes and cliches about mental illness are as pervasive as those about race. I have noticed that the mental illness that affects white men is often characterized, if not glamorized, as a sign of genius, a burden of cerebral superiority, artistic eccentricity - as if their depression is somehow heroic. White women who suffer from mental illness are depicted as idle, spoiled, or just plain hysterical. Black men are demonized and pathologized. Black women with psychological problems are certainly not seen as geniuses; we are generally not labeled “hysterical” or “eccentric” or even “pathological.” When a black woman suffers from a mental disorder, the overwhelming opinion is that she is weak. And weakness in black women is intolerable.
—  Meri Nana-Ama Danquah in Willow Weep For Me
For fat Black lesbian and bisexual women, it is important to note that in addition to racism, we must also negotiate the realities of heterosexism, sexism, and anti-fat bias within the health care system. The fact that fat Black lesbian and bisexual women sit at the intersections of all these marginalized identities cannot be overlooked in our efforts to acknowledge the ecology of our health care experiences. Typically, however, larger-than-average weight among Black women is viewed as a symptom of the deleterious effects of other forms of oppression, and the effects of anti-fat bias within society (including within the health professions) on Black women’s health are often ignored… Research claiming that weight is highly predictive of the health statuses of people of any group systematically discriminated against by health providers is incomplete without an analysis of the confounded effects of low-quality healthcare. To what extent does poor treatment in health care systems due to size, race, gender, or sexuality account for previously identified correlations among weight, disease, and death for fat women?
—  Bianca D. M. Wilson, Widening the Dialogue to Narrow the Gap in Health Disparities: Approaches to Fat Black Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Health Promotion 

It’s Women’s History Month, and today we’re honoring Byllye Avery, who has dedicated her life to improving the health of African-American women. She founded the Black Women’s Health Imperative — an organization dedicated to promoting physical, mental, and spiritual health for African-American women.

Learn more about her work »