Texas A&M University–Central Texas has announced that DeAnna Harris-McKoy, an assistant professor at the university, has received the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health grant for her study “Exploring Black Women’s Experiences and Perception of and Recovery from Depression.”
As an undergraduate student, facilitating a two-week youth leadership summit in Baltimore shaped the direction of Harris-McKoy’s entire career. From working with youth with delinquent behavior to the barriers and challenges black women face when seeking mental health care, she has focused on the systemic elements shaping behavioral health and care.
Harris-McKoy, an assistant professor in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at A&M-Central Texas, began to narrow her focus into three smaller areas including Black mental health. To ensure she had the resources, Harris-McKoy applied for, and received, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health grant, moving forward with her study “Exploring Black Women’s Experiences and Perception of and Recovery from Depression.”
To best understand the barriers and challenges black women face in seeking care, there are historical stereotypes that need to be addressed.
“Black women have been objectified and dehumanized through history, so there’s this negative stereotype of them being emotionally indestructible and strong,” Harris-McKoy said. “There’s a perception that black women can handle all the trauma and the pain they’re going through, and they’re not being diagnosed because they’re still functioning even with all these symptoms.”
Historical mistreatment of blacks by health professionals isn’t the only issue holding women back from seeking treatment.
“There’s a global mental health stigma you’re not supposed to admit that you have mental health problems because you’re going to be seen as weak or crazy,” Harris-McKoy said. “And Black women, we don’t go to talk to therapists, because you can handle it yourself, or go to your religious institute and pray about it.”
To gather data for her study, Harris-McKoy will conduct two community events, one at A&M-Central Texas’ campus in Killeen and one in Austin. Her work as supervisor in the on-campus counseling clinic was a clear indicator that an event in Bell County would be useful.
“We’ve seen black women come in and talk about symptoms of depression but they don’t acknowledge that they’re having all this pain, or that they should talk about it,” she said. It’s hard enough for them to come to therapy, then it took a while for them to say, ‘OK, this is how I’m feeling.’”
Retaining black women as consumers of therapy is also a struggle, said Harris-McKoy, and she is hopeful this study will provide information for mental health professionals to use in assessing depression in black women in a culturally sensitive and competent way.
“Maintaining that relationship, so black women can stay in therapy longer is crucial,” Harris-McKoy said. “Even though people of color are a smaller population, they don’t tend to go therapy, so their mental illnesses, when they do get treatment, are more severe.”
This entire study is very much community- and client-focused, said Harris-McKoy.
“I really want to listen and learn,” she said, “so we can understand black women’s perceptions and experiences and recovery from depression, and so we can decrease the stigma around mental illness.”