Black women everywhere are reclaiming their humanity by putting themselves and their mental health first. On the national stage, athletes such as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have not only disclosed their mental health struggles in public, they have followed through with historic refusals that mean prioritizing their wellness over their respective sports and over the expectations of a world wanting to be dazzled by their excellence no matter the expense. These highly publicized examples underscore the reality that, no matter how strong and resilient we perceive someone to be, there can always be hidden challenges. Black women in particular have historically been denied the right to attend to their pain over care-taking duties or the expectations of others. Whether it be the trope of the Strong Black Woman or racist stereotypes that Black women feel less pain (or perhaps are more used to pain), Black women have systematically had their pain invisibilized, minimized, and ignored. When it comes to mass incarceration, the invisibilizing of Black women’s experience and pain couldn’t be more stark.
Mass Incarceration Harms Black Women’s Mental Health
In 2018, Essie Justice Group conducted a survey of over 2,200 women and gender nonconforming people with incarcerated loved ones in 46 states. The results of that survey were published in a national report – Because She’s Powerful: The Political Isolation and Resistance of Women with Incarcerated Loved Ones. Our research concluded that mass incarceration is (1) a direct cause of significant to extreme psychological distress and trauma, and (2) a serious obstacle to the financial health and economic agency of women with incarcerated loved ones.
Mass incarceration causes psychological trauma
The incarceration of a loved one leads to depression, anxiety, anger, stress, and loneliness. 86% of women responding to our survey reported that the strain on their emotional and mental health is significant or extreme. That number jumps to 94% for women whose partners are incarcerated.
Mass incarceration causes life-altering pain
Women with incarcerated loved ones are living in life-altering pain: 94% of women with incarcerated partners experience significant or extreme strain on their mental or emotional health. A majority (63%) of all women reported that their physical health is negatively affected by a loved one’s incarceration.
Mass incarceration causes financial upheaval
Many women sacrifice their educational and career goals when a loved one is imprisoned. Our research found that 43% of women are forced to work more hours, get a different job, or turn down an educational opportunity as a result of their loved one’s incarceration.
Women are the linchpins in communities
Women provide irreplaceable and essential support for the people in their lives, incarcerated and not. Nearly 70% act as a primary support for at least one of their incarcerated loved ones. More than 80% of women surveyed listed at least one person, incarcerated or not, who depends on them for a basic need. Nearly 70% of women are their family’s only wage earner.
What Essie Justice Group Is Doing About It
At Essie Justice Group, we hold sacred space for the experience, expression, and healing of Black women’s pain. We know that 1 out of 2 Black women have an incarcerated loved one and that the impact of mass incarceration is an unseen, ongoing women’s health crisis. As women and gender nonconforming people with incarcerated loved ones, we know intimately the experience of having to hold everything together during a loved one’s incarceration – experiencing isolation, financial devastation, psychological trauma all while remaining the emotional, financial, and physical caretakers of our families and our communities. At Essie, supportive programs like our award-winning Healing to Advocacy Cohorts, our partnership with Feed Black Futures, and the Essie member care team are helping women and gender nonconforming people break isolation and prioritize their mental wellness.
If you know woman or gender non-conforming person with an incarcerated loved one nominate them to an Essie cohort today.