It’s OK for Black women to admit they’re not superwomen. In the case of Lisa Brown Alexander, people saw a professional Black woman who had it all together on the outside. But underneath the surface, she was hiding a well of psychological pain that is rarely addressed in the African American community.
Alexander is the president and CEO of Nonprofit HR, which she founded in 2000. The company is a full-service human resources firm that focuses exclusively on the nonprofit sector. As a leader in this niche market, Alexander’s client roster boasts some big name organizations, including the ASPCA, Goodwill Industries and Amnesty International.
Alexander shares her journey to wellness in a memoir titled Strong on the Outside, Dying on the Inside, which she developed from her daily journal. The Howard University alumna was on a fast track to success in her career. Everything seemed perfect, so people in her professional and personal circles were shocked when Alexander revealed a five-year battle with depression.
“I took pride in being a strong Black woman,” she told NewsOne. “We tend to take care of others but not ourselves. It just wasn’t a good look for a Black professional woman to have depression.”
“The moment I began writing in my journal, the more I needed to write,” she stated. “And the more I wrote, the better I felt. I couldn’t stop.”
Her descent into psychological darkness started with postpartum depression and developed “into something else that went unchecked for five years.”
In hindsight, Alexander said she went back to work too soon after having her second child. She hid her symptoms from her husband, family and colleagues—caught up in the myth that Black people don’t suffer from depression.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey in 2008, African-Americans (4 percent) were more likely to report major depression than Whites (3 percent). Yet, only 7.6 percent of African-Americans seek mental health services, compared to 16.6 percent of Whites, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services writes in a separate study.
Alexander eventually sought treatment. “I ultimately became exhausted from keeping up the façade, so I made the decision to get help,” she explained.
She found a Black female therapist, someone with whom she felt a connection. But Alexander masked her sessions in several ways, including marking them as generic meetings on her business calendar to keep her colleagues in the dark.
Friends and spouses can help, Alexander says. They should look for symptoms, including prolonged disconnectedness, overwork and sadness. Approach the subject from “a place of support” and “stand in the gap” with her by assuring her that what she’s experiencing is treatable.
“Help her to let go of the stigma, that means being supportive, being present, don’t make her do everything on her own,” she recommended.
Alexander offers the following tips:
- Be real with yourself about your emotional pain and mental health. Be strong enough to unveil your mask.
- Silence and prayer is not enough. If symptoms of depression persist or worsen, seek professional help.
- Understand that it’s OK to ask for help. Seeking help does not represent weakness but strength.
- Know that depression is treatable. Stay in recovery by being honest with yourself and maintaining healthy relationships.
As Alexander travels the country to share her experience, and other women are sharing their stories.
“Women who look like they have it all together relate to my experience,” she explained. “Being strong on the outside while dying inside is no way to live. Being a strong Black woman doesn’t supersede being healthy.”