Is Hair Care Black Women’s Key to Better Mental Health?

By: Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka
May 27, 2021
By: Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka
May 27, 2021
The truth will set you free, but first it requires an investment. In yourself.

Clinical psychologist and founder of PsychoHairapy, Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka, has blessed us with an article relating to hair and mental health. Ahead, Dr. Afiya covers it all—from struggling during a pandemic, to the consumerism craze surrounding mental health care, and how our self-care is reflective of our life.

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Ring… ring… This is Dr. Afiya. How may I help you?

The woman on the phone tearfully wept. “I’m so stressed out. This pandemic makes me scared to leave my house, I can’t watch the news because all I see is Black people being killed… and now my hair is starting to fall out. I’m only in my 20s. I need help.” She pleaded with me.

Email chime…
Opening an email on my laptop, I read, “I haven’t been to therapy before, but I really need someone to talk to about all of the deaths in my family from COVID-19. I haven’t even been able to take care of my hair and have worn it in a tangled bun for the past few weeks. This makes me know things are bad. Do you think you can help me?”

Social media alert…
I picked up my phone and looked in my direct messages on Instagram. I read the message from a hairstylist, “Can you speak about trauma on an Instagram Live with me? So many of my clients are struggling and don’t have anyone else to turn to. I’m not sure what to tell them and I want them to feel better.”

As the founder of PsychoHairapy, I have committed myself to the personal practice of mental health and counseled hundreds of Black women through psychological distress for over 15 years. And yet, having a PhD in clinical psychology could not have prepared me for the global health pandemic and psychological terrorism of racial and gender violence that I have had to manage and support other Black women through during the past 14 months.

Black women’s mental health has been my top professional charge as a Black female therapist. The statistics on Black women’s mental health are horrifying. For example, research scientists estimate that 49% of Black women have the symptoms for depression,1 with 10% actively reporting suicidal thoughts. And, when Black women experience these symptoms, they experience them not for the specified two-week periods, but often for decades. Even for Black girls, suicide attempt rates have increased by 73% from 1991 to 2017.2 Further, rates of depression and anxiety within Black communities spiked3 after the murder of George Floyd. Each week, we are faced with traumatizing news stories.

Headshot of Dr. Afiya

Buying Into Mental Health Care

Today, many of the top social media accounts and magazines suggest that we treat our mental health as an accessory, as if it is something we can simply order through online shopping or buy at the supermarket. That is a false concept. And yet, many of us are convinced that by buying something material, we will feel better and less stressed. But… you can’t buy optimal mental health.

We have to plan out mental health. We have to propagate good mental health. We must allocate time for good mental health. We have to make mental health a lifestyle. Optimal mental health comes from: setting intentions, actively shifting self-defeating thoughts to empowering ones, positive self-talk and affirmations, inspirational social support, the practice of mindfulness, moderate exercise, staying hydrated, placing limits on social media and television, reading, valuing and practicing your culture, rest, nutrient-dense foods, and… hair care. Yes, hair care—especially for Black women.

The Condition of Our Hair Reflects the State of Our Lives

Our heads are the gateway for all thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Our hair takes the prominent seat of being the highest point on our heads and therefore could hold command on the rest of our bodies. Hair is a litmus test for our moods. When we honor and respect our heads and our hair, we can feel our most powerful, creative, and beautiful. We know that our hair is intertwined with our self-concept, a major influencer of our mental health. To have excellent hair health and mental health, we must invest time and energy in ourselves. This concept is not recent but has quite ancient roots.

In traditional African societies, groups of women would gather to address each other’s emotional needs during the hair care process. Rituals—the way we prepare our minds, bodies, and spirits to receive deeper support—are often embedded in how we care for our hair.

During this pandemic, I recognized that my emotional energy was consumed by responding to all of the requests for help and I had started to neglect my own self-care and hair care needs. Luckily, I was invited to incorporate My Black is Beautiful Blue Ginger collection into my mental health rituals. Now, each wash day, I set an intention, focusing on what I need to clarify in my life or identifying areas of improved balance.

I take mindful moments while using the MBIB Blue Ginger Clarifying Shampoo to remove the impurities that build upon my head, and then savor the balance that is offered by MBIB Blue Ginger Balancing Conditioner to protect my crown from the chaos of my environment. I measure my breath; I close my eyes to visualize the stressors leaving my body through my hair and going down the drain with the rinse of the shampoo. I associate each dollop of conditioner as a force field around my dome, pulverizing the internalization of any “-ism” sent my way. It doesn’t end there… to stay cool, calm, and collected throughout the week, I have incorporated the MBIB Blue Ginger Calming Scalp & Hair Lotion and tingling Blue Ginger Cooling Scalp Serum. I take deep inhales through my nose and exhales through my mouth, finding pleasure in the scents of my products and releasing the tensions that have built up in my body due to persistent stress. This makes me feel better.

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I urge other women to make hair care an activity that involves taking extra time out of their day to care for their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It’s never too late to support yourself. Whether that’s investing in mental health care or finding products that nourish our locks and life, we all deserve care and healing through our hair, and throughout our life.

Headshot of Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka, Clinical Psychologis

1 NCBI, 2013
2 AAP News & Journals, 2019
3 The Washington Post, 2020

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