Why Michelle Williams' Statement About Her Mental Health Is So Important To Black Women

Photo: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic.
Living with a mental health disorder may be difficult, but for some people, taking the step to ask for help is even harder. Former Destiny's Child member Michelle Williams has always been an advocate of seeking help for mental health issues — and now, she's opening up about taking her own advice.
On Tuesday, Williams, who has previously talked about living with depression and suicidal thoughts, revealed through posts on her Instagram and Twitter that she recently sought professional help for her mental health.
"For years I have dedicated myself to increasing awareness of mental health and empowering people to recognize when it’s time to seek help, support and guidance from those that love and care for your wellbeing," she wrote. "I recently listened to the same advice I have given to thousands around the world and sought help from a great team of healthcare professionals."
Her statement was met with an outpouring of support, especially from those who applauded her for speaking out, pointing out how important her message was for Black women.
"Love and light to Michelle Williams," wrote Twitter user @ronkelawal. "I pray that we all find the courage to seek support and help when we need it. There is no shame in being vulnerable or seeking help when you are struggling, especially Black Women who are so often labelled as 'strong.'"
It's great for mental health awareness anytime anyone with a platform speaks out, but Black women are one of the most under-treated groups for mental health in the country. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Black Americans are 20% more likely than the general population to develop mental health problems, and Black women are more likely to go through physical symptoms related to mental health problems. However, only a quarter of Black Americans seek care, compared to 40% of white Americans.

When a Black woman takes the step of speaking up about a topic that has historically been taboo and silenced, it has the potential to create space for others to do the same.

Joy Bradford, PhD
In that sense, Williams' openness about her own mental health and how she sought help could send the message for others that not only is it okay to struggle, it's also okay to ask for help.
"When a Black woman takes the step of speaking up about a topic that has historically been taboo and silenced, it has the potential to create space for others to do the same," says Joy Harden Bradford, PhD, an Atlanta-based therapist who runs the podcast Therapy for Black Girls.
However, as far we've come in being more open about mental health, Dr. Bradford cautions that many Black women might not have the mental health resources that Williams does.
"While her talking publicly about her depression likely won’t have any impact on her ability to make music and have a lucrative career, it is important to note that someone without her platform might face some consequences from sharing," Dr. Bradford says. "So it is a bit of a conundrum because while it’s a positive thing that she wanted to share and did, I don’t want everyone to feel pressured to share because there unfortunately could be some negative consequences because of the world we live in."
But even if you're not comfortable sharing your problems, you should still be seeking help. And that remaining stigma might be why Williams' statement is so important in the first place. It shows that mental health issues don't discriminate, and we need to do better for people living with mental illnesses — especially when mental disorders affect one in four people worldwide.
"One of the things I think people struggle with a lot, especially as it relates to depression, is thinking that depression looks a certain type of way when it simply does not," Dr. Bradford says. "I think it helps people realize that mental illness can impact anyone, and that we shouldn’t be looking at things like income, relationship status, or job title to indicate whether someone is struggling or not."
If you are experiencing depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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