It’s true that anyone can experience sadness, worry, and other forms of mental disorder. Mental illness certainly knows no color, creed, or sexual orientation. But too often, it’s people of color—and especially Black people—who assume an uphill battle trying to navigate through depression and anxiety on their own.
“I think larger conversations around mental health often miss the nuance of what things look like in communities of color,” says Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, an Atlanta-based licensed psychologist and the founder and CEO of Therapy for Black Girls, a podcast and community of professionals dedicated to making mental health topics more relevant and accessible for Black women and girls.
Harden Bradford, who also goes by Dr. Joy, cites several stigmas that explain why this remains a common foothold in Black and Indigenous communities. Chief among those reasons, Dr. Joy points to the Black community’s historical relationship with religion and faith. “Many of us have been taught that if we struggle with mental health challenges, it means we are not praying hard enough or don’t have a strong enough faith relationship,” Dr. Joy says.
She equally underscores the common lack in household models who know how to approach mental disorder and emotional imbalance in holistic ways. “Additionally, many of us have not had models of what it looks like to do things like practice mindfulness, set boundaries, and regulate our emotions,” she continues.
Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, agrees and says that therapy and mental health services should also be tailored for historically excluded communities. As a licensed therapist and co-founder of Viva Wellness, Caraballo specializes in providing culturally competent mental health care to BIPOC and queer people. “My business partner, Rachel, and I both left our previous jobs to start Viva Wellness with the idea in mind of doing therapy better,” he explained. “We found that a lot of practices were often too rigid and inaccessible in all sorts of ways: policies, scheduling, fees, cultural competency, etc.”
In our quest to explore and contextualize some of the common challenges and barriers in mental health among BIPOC business owners, we asked Dr. Joy and Mr. Caraballo to share their expertise on how Black people can maintain their mental health while running a business.
Caraballo offers tips on when to seek and how to
find a quality and culturally-competent therapist.
It can be difficult to know if the emotions you experience are temporary blues or require professional help. And there are a host of circumstances that can contribute to emotional stress. “Black entrepreneurs might have specific concerns of general management of their health and wellness amidst high-stress times and long work hours, as well as navigating relationships with business partners, board members, etc.,” says Caraballo.
According to Caraballo, it may be a good idea to seek professional mental health services if you answer yes to one or more of the following questions.
☐ Do you, or others, notice any changes in your day-to-day functioning and mood?
☐ Does it feel hard to get through work days despite being rested?
☐ Are you having trouble focusing or managing relationships?
☐ Are you experiencing difficulty managing symptoms of anxiety, depression, or PTSD?
☐ Are you experiencing difficulty navigating issues related to social justice like racism, ableism, and queerphobia?
Often, the hardest part about deciding to see a therapist is knowing where to find one. “There are a lot of great resources out there for Black entrepreneurs interested in taking better care of their mental health,” Caraballo says. He provides the following recommendations to begin your search for a Black or culturally competent therapist:
Psychology Today: “A good resource to begin your search.”
Viva Wellness: Co-founded by Jor El Caraballo
Therapy for Black Girls: Founded by Dr. Joy Harden Bradford
Knowing where to find a therapist is hard, but knowing what to look for in a therapist can be even harder. It can be especially difficult to find one who understands your needs as a Black person. Here are the qualities and characteristics that Caraballo says one should seek in a therapist:
Comfort: “First and foremost, as a client you need to feel a basic level of comfort with the person you're sitting across from. This can be hard to assess initially, but many mental health professionals offer a brief phone consultation to help determine fit. This is a good time to get a ‘vibe check’ for how comfortable you're feeling.”
Competence and experience: “When searching for a therapist, it's also imperative to ask if your potential therapist has experience, or expertise, in working with people similar to you or those that have had similar concerns. That also means you'll need to have a basic understanding of what's bothering you when you reach out.”
Transparency: “You'll also want someone who is transparent about their practice details such as fees, insurance, administrative policies, etc. In my experience, having clarity there can go a long way in making sure you understand how that provider works and what to expect moving forward.”
(Disclaimer: These tips aren’t to replace professional help, but to bolster your own wellness day-to-day alongside therapy—should you pursue it.)
Dr. Joy acknowledges that the number of decisions one makes on a daily basis as an entrepreneur can be draining. “Decision fatigue is a very real concern for many small business owners,” she says. “Before embarking upon the journey of entrepreneurship, it is difficult to imagine the countless number of decisions that have to be made to keep a business running.”
One way to lessen the number of decisions is to outsource some of the tasks that can be done by others. “I also think that adding team members as soon as you possibly can is a great way to help with this,” Dr. Joy advises. “Entrepreneurs often wait too long before bringing in help and this can lead to things like burnout.”
Being an entrepreneur is often a lonely experience, which can sometimes lead to mental health challenges. “Isolation is a challenge that often comes up for small business owners,” Dr. Joy says. “There may not be many others in your circle who understand the pressures and demands required from your position. This is why finding community with other small business owners is critical.”
One way to do that is through group counseling. “I think group therapy could be excellent for independent business owners because it would serve as an additional space for support and could help to provide valuable insight into who you are as a person that can then be used to make you an even better business owner. Much of what is required to have a great business is solid relationships, and group therapy can be a good way to strengthen these.”
The Conquer Network could be a good place to start. Founded by online therapist and entrepreneur coach Seneca Williams, LMHC, The Conquer Network supports entrepreneurs in building mental wealth and business in an emotionally safe space.
While it's good to have a community of fellow entrepreneurs, it's just as important to have friends and cultivate relationships outside of your work sphere. It’s also good to break a sweat regularly and get some daily vitamin D.
“Having friends completely disconnected from my business is one of the ways I maintain my mental health,” Dr. Joy says. “I also engage in some kind of physical activity 3-4 times per week and get outside for some sunshine as often as I can.”
One way to get some fresh air and build relationships with like-minded individuals is to join a Black outdoors group. Here are some recommendations:
Outdoor Afro The nation’s leading, cutting-edge network that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature.
Soul Trak Outdoors A D.C. based nonprofit organization that connects communities of color to outdoor spaces while also building a coalition of diverse outdoor leaders.
Melanin Base Camp An organization founded to increase ethnic minority and LGBTQ+ participation in the outdoors.
Dr. Joy adds this final thought on balance: it’s overrated.
“I don’t think achieving work/life balance is really possible,” she explains. “I think that knowing that there will be ebbs and flows and that sometimes your business will require more time and energy than the other pieces of your life is important.”
Looking for advice on ways to maximize your focus during the periods when you need to give more attention to your work life? Check out Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport.