Lisa Brown Alexander shares her journey to wellness in her book, Strong on the Outside, Dying on the Inside.
It’s OK to admit you’re not a superwoman.
From the outside, people saw a professional black woman who had it all together. Underneath the surface, however, Lisa Brown Alexander was in a lot of pain—psychological pain that our community seldom addresses.
Alexander is the president and CEO of Nonprofit HR, a company she founded in 2000. Nonprofit HR is a full-service human resources firm that focused exclusively on the nonprofit sector. As a leader in this niche, Alexander’s company has a clientele that includes some of the largest organizations, such as the ASPCA, Goodwill Industries and Amnesty International.
The Howard University alumna was on a fast track to success in her career. Everything seemed perfect, so people in her professional and personal circles were shocked when Alexander revealed her five-year battle with depression.
“I took pride in being a strong black woman,” she told NewsOne. “We tend to take care of others but not ourselves. It just wasn’t a good look for a black professional woman to have depression.”
Alexander shares her journey to wellness in a memoir titled Strong on the Outside, Dying on the Inside, which she developed from her daily journal.
“The moment I began writing in my journal, the more I needed to write,” she stated. “And the more I wrote, the better I felt. I couldn’t stop.”
Her descent into psychological darkness started with postpartum depression and developed “into something else that went unchecked for five years.”
In hindsight, Alexander said she went back to work too soon after having her second child. She hid her symptoms from her husband, family and colleagues—caught up in the myth that black people don’t suffer from depression.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey in 2008, African Americans (4 percent) were more likely to report major depression than whites (3 percent). Yet, only 7.6 percent of African Americans seek mental health services, compared to 16.6 percent of whites, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in a separate study.
Alexander eventually sought treatment. “I ultimately became exhausted from keeping up the façade, so I made the decision to get help,” she explained.
She found a black female therapist, someone with whom she felt a connection. But Alexander masked her sessions in several ways, including marking them as generic meetings on her business calendar to keep her colleagues in the dark.
Alexander said black men could be proactive in helping the woman in their life. They should look for symptoms, including prolonged disconnectedness, overwork and sadness. Approach the subject from “a place of support” and “stand in the gap” with her by assuring her that what she’s experiencing is treatable.
“Help her to let go of the stigma, that means being supportive, being present, don’t make her do everything on her own,” she recommended.
As Alexander travels the country to share her experience, black women are revealing similar stories to her.
“Women who look like they have it all together relate to my experience,” she explained. “Being strong on the outside while dying inside is no way to live. Being a strong black woman doesn’t supersede being healthy.”
Alexander offered these tips:
- Be real with yourself about your emotional pain and mental health. Be strong enough to unveil your mask.
- Silence and prayer is not enough. If symptoms of depression persist or worsen, seek professional help.
- Understand that it’s OK to ask for help. Seeking help does not represent weakness but strength.
- Understand that depression is treatable. Stay in recovery by being honest with yourself and maintaining healthy relationships.