Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 9–10, pp 517–526 | Cite as

Underneath the Mask of the Strong Black Woman Schema: Disentangling Influences of Strength and Self-Silencing on Depressive Symptoms among U.S. Black Women

  • Jasmine A. AbramsEmail author
  • Ashley Hill
  • Morgan Maxwell
Original Article


Recent investigations have elucidated the influence of the Strong Black Woman (SBW) Schema on the mental health and treatment seeking behaviors of Black women in the United States. However, the SBW schematic characteristics that produce depression have yet to be identified. The current study fills this void in the literature through a quantitative examination of how characteristics of the SBW Schema relate to depressive symptomology. Analyses were based on 194 participants, including college students (n = 98) and community members (n = 96), ranging in age from 18 to 82 years-old (M = 37.53, SD = 19.88). As hypothesized, various manifestations of self-silencing were found to significantly mediate the relationship between the perceived obligation to manifest strength (a SBW characteristic) and depressive symptomatology. The present study advances the idea that depressive symptoms are related to endorsement of the SBW Schema and highlights self-silencing as a mechanism by which this relationship occurs. These results offer evidence and clarification of the impact of the SBW Schema on Black women’s mental health and identify specific points of intervention for mental health practitioners conducting therapeutic work with Black women. We provide recommendations for future research to avoid pathologizing strength and we discuss the implications and potential benefits of integrating a Womanist theoretical perspective into counseling for Black women, a population that has historically underutilized mental health resources.


African American women Mental health Psychological distress Counseling Depression Superwoman Gender roles Strong black woman 



Research reported in the present manuscript was supported by grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (5F31HL122118-02) and the National Institute of Mental Health (R25MH087217) of the National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest

The authors have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.

Research Involving Human Subjects

This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Virginia Commonwealth University and was conducted ethically according to the approved protocol.

Informed Consent

Written informed consent was obtained from all study participants.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MarylandBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry, and Innovation (iCubed)Virginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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