It’s OK not to be OK. This is the mantra behind “Unmasked Women,” an art exhibition exploring the current state of black mental health for young women in the United Kingdom. Nicole Krystal Crentsil, a 24-year-old assistant project manager from north London, was inspired to put together the show, frustrated by the lack of resources available to young women when they need it most.
“There’s this expectation of black women to be behind or come last,” artist Simone Leigh recently said in an interview with Artsy. The cycle is abhorrent. Black women are subject to innumerable instances of institutionalized racism and sexism every day that undoubtably lead to anxiety and depression, including but not limited to workplace discrimination, police brutality and mass incarceration.
Furthermore, there is a long medical history of black women’s pain being overlooked and ignored, leading women of color to minimize their own mental health struggles instead of working to resolve them. As a result, in black communities, there is a stigma surrounding the need for outside assistance, and a lack of cultural awareness about what resources are available.
When black women do reach out for assistance, still medical facilities routinely endanger them by making them wait, viewing their pain as less than. According to the Summary Health Statistics: National Health Interview Survey, African-Americans are 10 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic whites, and yet less likely to seek help.
Crentsil herself struggled with mental health in her early adulthood, and didn’t know where to turn. “I too found it hard to talk about my own issues,” the curator told BuzzFeed News. “Being turned away by local authorities, public services, even friends and family who didn’t understand what I was going through ― I simply don’t want that to happen to anyone.”
One major barrier women of color face, Crentsil explained to The Huffington Post, is lack of understanding from therapists who aren’t themselves familiar with the burdens they face day to day. “Some therapists are not aware of what it’s like to be brought up with racial oppressions and institutionalized pressures,” she said. “They think talking to your mum would solve all your issues.”