Black Women's Mental Health and Wellness

Greetings, Black women’s studies community! I am Stephanie Y. Evans, Professor and Chair of African American Studies, Africana Women’s Studies, and History (AWH Department) at Clark Atlanta University. I earned a PhD in African American Studies with a Graduate Certificate in Advance Feminist Studies, both from University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

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My current research is mental health and wellness in Black women’s memoirs. Specifically, I am writing about historical wellness in elder narratives. The tentative book title is Joy in My Soul: Healing Traditions in Black Women’s Centenarian Memoirs (Lever Press, 2019). This work builds on my co-edited books, Black Women’s Mental Health: Balancing Strength and Vulnerability(2017, SUNY) and Black Women and Social Justice Education: Legacies and Lessons (2019, SUNY) as well as my first book Black Women in the Ivory Tower, 1850-1954: An Intellectual History (2007). This current research centers discussions of stress and self-care, particularly investigating ways Black women academics experience and write about wellness and the lessons to be learned from life writing of women in their 90s and 100s. I am currently teaching a graduate seminar on Black Women’s Wellness and it is infinitely satisfying.

I love my current research because it builds on my foundation of autobiography as intellectual history and it is immensely practical. Everywhere I turn in the academy—and in the world—I see stress being normalized. My current work looks at historical and contemporary figures who are nonagenarians and centenarians for clues about how Black women can achieve life balance despite the stressors we face.  

Elder narratives by women like Harriet Tubman, the Delany Sisters, Marian Anderson, and Dona Painter reinforce current findings by American Psychological Association and Black Women’s Health Imperative’s IndexUS that everyday activities like prayer, yoga, music, and meditation can impact quality and longevity of life. The most important aspect of my current research is that it comes from personal practice and experiences of personal and professional stress. I used to have a peptic ulcer and was bleeding internally—a condition exacerbated by stress. I was completely unaware of historical healing traditions Black women have used to manage and reduce stress. My life practices of stress reduction (like self-hypnosis, meditation, yoga, listening to music, aerobics) are now paired with my research practice and it is both productive and fulfilling. This work has helped me to have meaningful discussions with colleagues about self-care and to collaborate with like-minded people who value intellectual rigor but who also take life balance seriously. It has also helped me be mindful of how I manage my academic space to dismantle stressful practices in my area and to institutionalize wellness in my department, campus, and professional networks.

- Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans