This blog was published in partnership with the UK-based, black feminist organisation Imkaan, to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence You can read the original article here.

“but bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical
dilemma/ i haven’t conquered yet/ do you see the point
my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul & gender”
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf

A word frequently used to describe women of colour is resilience. In addition to tackling the everyday challenges of health, family, employment and identity, women of colour have to navigate a world with rampant sexism and racism.

We point to the resilience of women of colour in sub-Saharan Africa where women have a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, and in Pakistan where 7 in 10 women and girls experience intimate partner violence.

We recognise the resilience of women when we hear that Latin American and African American women are more likely to be imprisoned than white women for the same offences; when we learn that the pay gap between black women and white women in the UK is 10%.

We applaud the resilience of women of colour when we dissect education, politics and academia, when we unpack sexuality, desirability and respectability. And we do not have to search far to unearth the heroic stories of the matriarchs in our family tree. From the romanticised stories of women who ran away from home to join the military, to the everyday tales of those who supported their husbands and raised six children.

The resilience of women of colour is celebrated in almost every area of life where, despite oppression, we continue to survive, to exist. However, rarely do we talk about the countless women of colour who are surviving day to day life with the added challenge of psychological distress.

From psychological distress and mental distress, to mental health difficulties, mental health problems, mental illness, and trauma, the language and descriptors are as diverse and as layered as those to whom they refer. Whichever term you prefer to use, the need to acknowledge the everyday acts of women who face this addition challenge is great.

In the UK, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women are

  • 3–6 times more likely to be admitted to mental health units than average
  • more likely to be compulsorily admitted
  • Less likely to be admitted to women’s crisis houses
  • Less likely to be referred to talking therapies

(Kalathil et al., 2011)

For many, the death of Sarah Reed in January 2016 was a harrowing reminder of the many ways in which people with mental health problems are failed by the very systems designed to help them. Others highlighted the role of sexual trauma in her story, others, her visible identity as black or mixed race person. However, it was the intersections of her gender, race and mental health that shaped the trajectory of the tragedy that unfolded.

In a time of when mental health is on the country’s agenda, from campaigns endorsed by royals, to party pledges and investments, the stories of marginalised groups must not be forgotten. Those whose stories meet at the many intersections that exist in society, deserve to have their mental health stories told and yes, that includes the unique and diverse stories of women of colour.

About author

Samara Linton is the editor of The Colour of Madness, an upcoming anthology of BAME mental health. You can support the anthology by submitting your work or donating to the crowdfund.