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Black Lives Are Beautiful: Mental Health and Self-Esteem in Black Women with Dr. Charmeka Newton

Dr. Charmeka Newton is passionate about mitigating racial disparities in mental health treatment. She has over 10 years of experience in clinical, academic, and community settings, including teaching experience at both undergraduate and graduate levels of higher education. Her areas of expertise include multicultural counseling, research methods, tests and measurement, career counseling, and clinical supervision of master’s-level counseling practitioners and students. In addition to her clinical and teaching expertise, Dr. Newton is also a member of the Michigan Board of Psychology, appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

In this interview, Dr. Newton shares her journey to becoming a psychologist and how she is helping bridge the mental health gap for women and communities of color.

Dr. Charmeka Newton

Did you always know this was the field you wanted to work in? How did you get started?

There is a saying that the thing that breaks your heart is the thing you should do something about. Seeing people of color suffer from mental health issues and not loving themselves breaks my heart and I feel that is what called me to the field of psychology. Originally I wanted to be a journalist, but upon entering college I began to take psychology-related courses, which increased my passion for helping others to heal.

What are some of the most common mental health issues that professional women of color face?

Black women are not only affected by racism but sexism as well. As a result, they can experience microaggressions at increased rates given their multiple identities. These experiences can wear on the soul of Black women and impact their mental health, causing issues such as low self-worth, depression, and anxiety. The latter is one of the reasons Dr. Janeé Steele and I wrote the book Black Lives Are Beautiful. We wanted to provide people of color with tools to heal from the impact of racism and build a positive identity.

In your opinion, what is the relationship between mental health and confidence?

How we feel about ourselves impacts how we feel and how we behave. For example, as a woman of color, if you feel you are not worthy, then that can cause issues such as depressed mood because our thoughts impact our mood. Within our book, Black Lives Are Beautiful, we empower individuals to change negative cognitions to help promote their own interpersonal healing because research shows there is a strong connection between our confidence and positive mental health.

Why is it important to have more therapists and mental health specialists of color?

There is a significant stigma in certain communities of color about going to therapy. Many times, people of color may not seek help because they may feel a white clinician may not understand them or their racial identity. Hence, having clinicians of color can help normalize therapy. It may also help more people of color enter therapy because they may feel like having a therapist of color may help them feel more understood. The latter is another reason we wrote the book Black Lives Are Beautiful. We wanted to provide all therapists with tools on how to broach issues of race and provide them with practical activities to engage with Black Americans who may be dealing with issues specifically connected to their racial identity.

Do you think there is a link between representation and confidence?

I would say yes. Having positive examples can help us define a concept and create a vision that includes us. In our book, Black Lives Are Beautiful, we have activities that allow individuals to identify family members and people in their culture who they are proud of, and who can help them build their confidence because we realize the importance of seeing people who are confident and positive examples.

What daily practice can we use to cultivate a sense of self-care and mental health?

Using self-affirmations and extending grace to yourself is an excellent way to engage in self-care.

How can we do a better job of supporting the health and well-being of black and brown women?

I believe we can do a better job of supporting health and wellness by normalizing the idea that it’s okay to not be okay and to seek mental health help. I think we can also help by breaking down messages that say Black women need to be strong, as these messages reinforce poor self-care. It’s okay to need a break, it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to rest.

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