“Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.” —Mae Jemison

As part of WP Engine’s Rise Employee Resource Group (ERG) observance of Black History Month in the U.S., Rise member and Sr. Manager of Engineering, Jennifer Parker, provides her thoughts on Health and Wellness in Black communities with a focus on mental health. 

As I analyze the state of health in Black communities and our well-being, the facts are still very troubling. According to the U.S. Census, nearly one in five Black people in the U.S. were living in poverty as of 2019.  

While wellness is very important for every community, the criteria may be slightly different for Black communities due to our endured experiences and shared history. We live in a society that often denies our rights, needs, and wants, and Blacks are more susceptible to conditions related to mental illness given the ever-present weight of survival in a world that has yet to provide durable solutions to help counter the ripple effects that impact our daily lives. 

Since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, the gap for access to healthcare resources is gradually closing, yet the number of uninsured Blacks in America remains too high. 

Many of our readers likely woke up in seemingly good health, with a roof over their heads, clothed, fed, and are rarely in need.  But the truth is, poverty is real, and in many Black (and other minority) communities, basic human essentials (i.e. adequate clean water, nutrition, suitable health care, education, clothing, and shelter) are not always available. 

The lack of these elements is often directly correlated to the health conditions commonly found in Black households (hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and mental illness). And people living with chronic physical conditions often experience emotional stress and chronic pain, which are both associated with the development of depression and anxiety.

“Everyone has the right to good health & well-being,” says the NAACP, and the journey to resolve the disparities and expand access and availability in Black and underserved communities is still ongoing (Health Disparities by Race and Ethnicity – Center for American Progress). 

Being a witness to the continued struggles, dehumanization, and violence of Blacks in America and across the globe, like so many, has hindered my mental and emotional well-being. The good news is today, we have a surge in activities to reverse misfortunes inflicted by a history of trauma, which is why I am so appreciative of the dedicated advocacy and growing ally programs to help ignite change within affected communities and account for a percentage improvement to people impacted over time. 

It is vital for members of our communities to gravitate towards our mental, physical, emotional, and yes, financial wellness.  We must continue to research and educate ourselves about mental health, such that the weight and suffering are coherent enough to process and cope. While healthcare, self-care, and financial resources specific to our needs are not always easy to find, they exist, they can help, and finding what services resonate and work for your comfort level does matter. Navigating these things is imperative for us to be able to be our best selves.

Here at WP Engine, Rise’s initiatives aim to promote, educate, advocate, and inspire the BIPOC community and allies to be more involved in their wellness. Throughout the month of February and the following months, we will provide resources, share stories, and find partners we can work within this space.

Along those lines, Rise will also convene a panel to discuss mental health and wellness in underrepresented communities next month. We’ll host professionals with expertise in either mental health or DE&I to discuss how minority communities are impacted by these issues.

I’ve learned that when we attempt to extend beyond our volume, there is a cost.  As my eyes widen, I only imagine in the last 50 years, efforts to narrow the wealth gap for Blacks, provide equity, equality, and justice remain a tall cup for any human to fill.  

“My friends, every day I Rise, I am filled with thankfulness for renewed mercies and grace in my life, joy from abiding in God’s presence, and peace in knowing my heart is in a good place.  Science shows that gratitude is good for our mental and physical health and therefore good for our wellbeing.”

What are you grateful for today?  This week I challenge you to recognize the good things in your life and in the world. Take notice of your emotions as you process goodness.

Let’s encourage thankfulness in our daily lives!  Cultivate characters of wellness and healthy habits that are conducive to mental health.