The emotional effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) on the lives of Black women are even less explored than the physical effects. However, a recent study provides some insight into the experiences of Black women with MS.
Mental health can affect physical health. There is increasing awareness that multiple sclerosis (MS) trials involving Black people are lacking. Even fewer explore the emotional effects and impact on life that this disease has. A study published in the International Journal of MS sought to examine the experiences of Black women who have been diagnosed with MS. Face-to-face semistructured interviews were conducted with 19 African American women to determine how having MS affects their individual lives. This qualitative study categorized information from answers to these questions:
- What is it like for you to live with MS?
- Can you describe your greatest challenges living with MS?
- How have you dealt with challenges related to living with MS?
- What suggestions can you offer for others like yourself who experience problems with their MS?
The analyses yielded three significant categories: surprise that the person has been diagnosed with MS, difficulty living with MS, and perseverance. Because MS is not often associated with Black people, some women and their doctors were surprised by the diagnosis. For this reason, many women felt their diagnosis had been delayed while their physicians initially focused on other diseases considered more typical in the Black population. The women identified that living with losses related to social and family activities, independence, and employment were challenging.
The following key strategies were identified as coping mechanisms:
- Faith in God
- Coming to grips with the diagnosis
- Health promotion behaviors
- Pushing forward, working through MS challenges, and self-care were additional ways these women cope with this disease.
As researchers become more aware of the need to include Black people in their MS research studies, the unique mental health needs of Black people should be further explored, as well.
Stuifbergen, A., Becker, H., Phillips, C., Horton, S., Morrison, J., & Perez, F. (2021). Experiences of African American Women with Multiple Sclerosis. Int J MS Care, 23(2), 59-65. https://doi.org/10.7224/1537-2073.2019-068