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Melody T. McCloud M.D.
Melody T. McCloud M.D.

Social Stress and Black Women's Health: A 'Rejection Connection'?

It's Time to Change the History of Black Women's Health

In the new book, Living Well, Despite Catchin' Hell: The Black Woman's Guide to Health, Sex and Happiness, it is written, "The goal isn't to be like White or Asian women; the goal is to be healthier Black women." Make sure you are Living Well in 2012!

The 21st-century affords all women--including women of color--a new day for reaping every bit of what makes life worthwhile. In many instances, all you have to do is reach out and grab it; go for the gusto!

But in today's world the only thing many Black women want to reach for is the television remote to turn off the images that barrage our psyche almost every day of our lives. Whether it's a news report of some Black woman "behaving badly" in her community, or watching others willfully participate in music videos which are anything but respectful to women and/or their bodies.

Faced with the issues of disparaging images in the media, colorism, growing inequities of college and grad school graduation rates between Black males and females, a growing shortage of marriage-minded (and marriage-worthy) Black men, and trying to have a healthy attitude about relationships and sex in a community plagued by men "on the down-low," Black women face formidable odds.

On the nightly news, we see too many young Black men (would-be husbands, or could-be successful businessmen) carted off to jail, or we are subjected to the likes of national radio jocks calling Black women "nappy-headed hos" and former basketball coaches intimating "it's okay for Black men to call Black women" a word that rhymes with "witch."

As if the sport-like attack on our psyche and image isn't enough, our physical bodies also face formidable challenges. Despite many government initiatives to abate "ethnic health disparities," Black males and females still lag behind when it comes to successful health care outcomes.

Compared to other females, Black women have a shorter life expectancy and carry the highest mortality rate for many killer diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS and more. Compared to women of other races, Black women are also least likely to get married; and for decades, Black women's natural physical attributes have been criticized, but when purchased by others, those same attributes are deemed desirable, sexy and alluring. Go figure.

I call these factors "social stressors," and I created a "Rejection Connection" flowchart (found in Living Well) that clearly links how these psycho-social factors adversely affect Black women's physical health. More than lack of insurance or lack of access to medical care, I believe that these social stressors play just as big a role in the ongoing state of our health.

I personally challenge media and advertising executives to be more cognizant of the images they put forth; and for health professionals, sociologists and psychologists to recognize how such negative imagery affects the psyche, not only of Black women, but others--including young boys and girls--who also view said disparaging images.

Yet, given all the stress Black women face, it is amazing that we have the lowest rate of suicide compared to any other demographic in American society! This is a remarkable testament to the resiliency, strength, fortitude, focus, faith and psychological constitution of Black women.

Despite the negatives--the social "hell"--Black women have to deal with, many Black women are living well as cherished wives, trailblazing professionals and entrepreneurs. So we rise up and press on. We not only survive, but many of us thrive...and ain't that good news for such a time as this?

Be Healthy, Be Blessed...and Live Well! Also see other related posts on this blog.

About the Author
Melody T. McCloud M.D.

Melody T. McCloud, M.D., is an obstetrician-gynecologist and the author of First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers.

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