Women’s Mental Health Expert Interview: Nichelle Foster, MMFT

Date Posted

February 22, 2022

Author

Photo of Nichelle Foster

As part of our Women’s Mental Health Educational Series, we are presenting expert opinions on the subject of women’s mental health. This interview is with Nichelle Foster, MMFT. Ms. Foster has a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Trevecca Nazarene University. She has over twenty years of experience working with people with mental health and substance issues and their families.

Why do you think it’s important to focus on women’s mental health?

A person’s mental health can dictate the degree of attention they give to their physical health. That’s why it’s important to take care of the brain. Many times, women will discount pain as a signal that something is wrong, by saying “I just slept wrong,” or “It’s no big deal.” This is a problem for women of color. The “Strong Black Woman” trope can be detrimental to Black women’s mental health. They are not invincible, but have operated from a place of survival. They feel that if they aren’t in constant motion, they are failing. I hear, “I have to get out and work two jobs because…” and “I cannot take time off from work because…” It’s important for my generation to be chain-breakers and change-makers. Our mental health is essentially our mental wealth. I want to encourage women to be rich mentally as well as financially.

What barriers do women face when addressing issues such as major depressive disorder and postpartum depression?

Some of the more common barriers are stigma around mental illness, access and affordability of services, and the false ideology that only certain people of a specific socioeconomic status go to therapy. Women of color may automatically deny that they are having feelings of depression and throw on their superwoman cape because they have been conditioned to suppress their emotions. Appropriate and adequate resources may present another barrier. Women in marginalized communities begin to feel that they don’t have anyone they can talk to who looks like them or who will understand the trauma they have experienced. Postpartum depression is a specific type of depression. Mothers go from only taking care of themselves to providing for all the physical and emotional needs of another human being. Lack of sleep, changes in the body and brain, and these new demands can make women feel inadequate and overwhelmed.

Based on your experience, what is needed so that women of color have access to culturally-relevant and community-based mental health care? 

First, we need to normalize seeking therapy to take care of our mental health. We can start by having open conversations about the benefits and availability of services. Then, we share with the community information and websites that list therapists of color. Therapy for Black Girls is designed to provide a list of therapists in any state and provide information through blog reports and podcasts on a variety of topics that usually are not discussed openly. Locally, mental health providers can support one another and share information about their services social media platforms.

How can spouses, partners, and other family members support women who are experiencing a mental health condition?

Spouses, partners and other family members have to ask themselves if they are willing to go the distance. The journey to mental wellness and healing is neither linear nor quick. With psychoeducation, caregivers can better understand and support the women in their lives.