Dr. Joy Harden Bradford is a licensed clinical psychologist who founded the award-winning podcast Therapy for Black Girls and is considered the go-to therapist for Black women looking to prioritize their mental health.
In her book, Sisterhood Heals: The Transformative Power of Healing in Community, Dr. Joy shows you how to deepen your friendships and become the best possible version of yourself in the process. She shares all she’s learned using the tenets of psychology and group therapy to help us foster relationships that are not only positive, but transformative.
If our circle exists for long enough, there will undoubtedly be a time when the group is focused on supporting someone through the loss of a loved one. When that happens, it can be hard to know what to do or say, and the mistake we often make is not saying or doing anything. We worry that asking about the deceased loved one will only make the memories more painful and instead choose to avoid these conversations. Oftentimes there is nothing further from the truth. Asking a friend to share memories and stories about their loved one can be comforting and sends the message that you understand how important this person was to them and that you are holding space for them to remember.
Sisterhood Heals (Ballantine) by Joy Harden Bradford
Understanding that we all grieve differently is key. Some people isolate and want solitude while others throw themselves into a project. This is especially important when discussing Black women because we’ve not historically been given space to be sad and grieve, so your sister might find herself doing the thing that comes naturally—throwing herself into work or a new project. And while some level of distraction may help to manage the intensity of grief, it might also prevent her from tending to herself in the way that is needed following a loss. I invite us as friends of someone grieving not to be fooled by this performance of okayness and to be gentle but intentional about helping our Sis make space for her grief. In addition to that intentionality, here are a few other things to consider:
Similar to the experience of losing a loved one, a sister in the circle experiencing an illness can be equally destabilizing. This can be complicated because Black women tend to keep health concerns to themselves for fear of worrying or being a burden to others. But for those circles where this information is shared, there are some tangible ways to show support for this sister.
We often hear the refrain to “check in on your strong friends” after a high-profile person dies by suicide or reveals they are struggling with their mental health. While these calls for action are often well intentioned, it is not always clear what one is to do as part of this “check in.” When we know this sister we love is struggling, our initial response is often the same one we use for other types of grief: “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” While perhaps thoughtful, those sentiments typically do not go far enough for someone who is depressed or struggling in a similar way.
One of the hallmark symptoms of a depressive disorder is a difficulty with concentration and other executive functioning. This means they may not be able to organize their thoughts well enough to let you know what they need. If possible, try to anticipate what they may need. Offer to do very practical things that might make a big difference, like going over to wash dishes or do a load of laundry. People who are depressed often have a loss of appetite or no motivation to feed themselves, so consider bringing over their favorite food or some protein shakes/smoothies in case it’s easier for them to get something down by drinking rather than chewing. Something else that can be helpful and comforting for people struggling with mental health challenges is for you to just be present while they do something they may want or need to do, but can’t find the motivation to start. Simply standing in a doorway, talking to them from the hallway, may give them the extra push they need to take a shower or wash their hair.
Similarly, they may not want you to talk. Perhaps just being there to sit with them while they take a nap would be comforting. Supporting someone struggling with their mental health can look lots of different ways and oftentimes tailoring your attempts to help comes down to what you know about your sisters and how they tend to be impacted when they’re struggling. I recently saw a post shared via Today that beautifully captured what it can look like to show up for someone we love when they’re having a hard time. After Ashlee experienced a miscarriage, her friend Anna sent the following text as a way of checking in on her.
Checking on you. Please choose from the following:
This is wonderful! Offering options that involve both tangible and intangible things, silence or presence, is a great model to adopt when we consider how we might offer support to a sister who may be struggling with her mental health, and one that would likely be appreciated and helpful.
Longevity within a sister circle is often a blessing, and it also means that you’ve likely experienced some significant life stuff together. Research indicates that having a strong support system is a significant factor in being able to rebound following a life stressor. To ensure that our systems stay intact, it is important to know how to effectively navigate conflicts that may arise and how to support one another through difficult experiences.
This is an excerpt from Sisterhood Heals by Joy Harden Bradford, PhD. Copyright © 2023 by Joy Harden Bradford, PhD. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Dr. Joy Harden Bradford is a Licensed Psychologist. She’s also the author of Sisterhood Heals: The Transformative Power of Healing Community. Her work focuses on making mental health topics more relevant and accessible for Black women and she delights in using pop culture to illustrate psychological concepts.
Named by Glamour Magazine as a Game Changer for her work in the mental health field, she received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Xavier University of Louisiana, her Master’s degree in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling from Arkansas State, and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from The University of Georgia.
Her work has been featured in Essence, Forbes, MTV, Huffington Post, Black Enterprise, Refinery29, Teen Vogue, and Women’s Health, among others. Dr. Joy lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons.
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford
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