The Nina Simone State of Mind: Mental Health and African American Women
Revolutionary, eclectic, beautiful, dark-skinned, activist, pianist, singer, poet, fighter, soulful, mother, wife, abused, abusive, manic depressive and bipolar African American women. Eunice Kathleen Waymon, stage name, Nina Simone made being radical, beautiful in every sense. However, it came with a price. On stage, and in the public eye, the world just saw a gifted, intense, and unique African American woman. Behind the scenes, she suffered from an abusive husband and mental health problems. Nina Simone, as compared to other African and Black American women have a lot in common.
Among the African American community, particularly women, depression is a major concern. Mental health, in general, is often a stigmatized topic of discussion. Depression is just one of several mental health diagnoses that African American women suffer from. Like Nina Simone, many African American, black, and melanin women reach a mental parallel identical to the Nina Simone State of Mind. What am I talking about? The “state of” that stems from our social or cultural expectations, politics, social class, history, lack of education, substance abuse, and psychological trauma, to name a few. Phyllis Hyman is another iconic African American woman who ended up committing suicide from the long bout of depression.
According to several articles, women overall, that have symptoms of varying mental health ailments, experience lack of treatment, lack of health insurance, shame and embarrassment, lack of knowledge, and the refusal of help. Interestingly, African-American women have higher rates of depression in comparison to the general population. Why would African American women experience higher rates of depression (mental health concerns, in general) than the general population of women? Nina Simone gives us the answer to this question. The answer…it’s because the same factors Nina experienced as a black woman in the zeitgeist of her era, are the present-day factors African American women experience today.
Some of these experiences, include, but not limited to, fatherless homes, caregivers at an early age, traumatic events, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, discrimination, witness to abusive situations, abusive relationships, single-parenthood, promiscuity, constant stimulating European images of “models”, disrespect from black men, to include mental and physical abuse, generational and hereditary factors. These are just a piece of the problem. We, (African American, black, melanin women) like Nina Simone, are triumphant, yet endure many burdens over the course of our lives that play a major role in our mentality.
What can we learn from the Nina Simone state of mind? In our present-day, as melanin women, that even though we were created to “endure” we also must endure with a conscious mindset of self-care; mind, spirit, and body. There are available resources, local groups, training and education, and increase our awareness of mental health symptoms. More than ever, we need to learn how to love ourselves first, before we can continue to fight whatever battles we must endure. Since Nina Simone, we’ve evolved as women, however, mental health is ever present, but there is help. There is a magnitude of services and support that is available today than it was during the existence of our sweet Nina.
National organizations like National Institute of Mental Health, World Health Organization, National Alliance on Mental Health, Mental Health America, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Active Minds, and American Psychiatric Association, are just some. Free information and education is available by just typing certain tag words in Google search engine. One well-known local group in our community is Teach them to Love Ministries (T3L), founder Lolita Gilmore. T3L offers shelter, services, and education for women and families in domestic violence situations and co-related mental health concerns. We are accountable to our melanin sisters, to learn, and share information that will help us live out our greatest gifts in life, as Nina Simone had accomplished.
Nina Simone has always given us women the answers to mental health. We just need to listen closely to what she has been saying. Plenty of her answers can be found in some of her greatest songs, such as, “Don’t let me be misunderstood”
“Baby you understand me now
If sometimes you see that I’m mad
Doncha know no one alive can always be an angel?
When everything goes wrong, you see some bad.
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood”
Many of us, African American, black and melanin women are misunderstood. Day after day, we endure not grasping or understanding our own mental status. That stops today. You are now aware of the Nina Simone State of Mind. It is much similar to yours.