Mental Health News Unsung Hero Spotlight: Black Girls Breathing How an Organization Is Helping Black Women Release Stress and Find Connection By Cathy Cassata Cathy Cassata Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, medical news, and inspirational people. Learn about our editorial process Published on September 29, 2021 Fact checked by Nicholas Blackmer Fact checked by Nicholas Blackmer on September 02, 2021 LinkedIn Nick Blackmer is a librarian, fact checker, and researcher with more than 20 years’ experience in consumer-oriented health and wellness content. He keeps a DSM-5 on hand just in case. Learn about our editorial process Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD on September 06, 2021 Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Share Tweet Email Table of Contents Table of Contents Expand Meet Jasmine Marie Making the Connection Pandemic Proves More Need Healing Conversation in Addition to Breathing Advocating Beyond Breath View All As 2021 set in, and the world felt the continued impact of COVID-19 and political unrest, one silver lining came to the forefront: a focus on mental health. According to a survey conducted in January 2021 by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association, stress in the United States was the highest during this period than it had been since early in the pandemic. Summary of Very/Somewhat Significant Sources of Stress 81% of adults in the U.S. cited the future of the nation as a significant source of stress80% cited the coronavirus pandemic74% cited political unrest around the nation72% cited the current political climate66% cited the January 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol For the Black community, the pandemic has added an even greater amount of stress as Black or African American people are twice as likely to die from COVID than White people. To recognize those making a difference in people’s lives this year, Verywell Mind is highlighting unsung heroes who played a crucial role in mental well-being. Meet Jasmine Marie Gerald Carter Jasmine Marie, founder of the social impact organization black girls breathing, a safe space for Black women to manage their mental and emotional health through breathwork, is one such hero. After graduating college in 2013, Jasmine Marie landed a demanding job for a brand management company in New York City. “I remember experiencing the effects of being highly stressed all the time,” Marie tells Verywell. “I would go to my doctor, and she’d say, ‘This is simply stress. I don’t know any other way to tell you. You need to find a way to manage stress.” At the time, she was volunteering in the communications department of the Baptist church she belonged to in Harlem. “They were opening a community center for Harlem residents and offering free services of all kinds. Breathwork ended up being one of the classes, and that’s how I got introduced to it,” she says. When Marie left the brand management company to start her own marketing firm, she turned to breathwork as a way to cope during stressful times. In 2018, she felt compelled to get trained as a trauma- and grief-informed breathwork practitioner. However, all of her trainers were non-Black people, and the lack of diversity inspired her to make a change. “I knew how powerful breathwork is and what it could do for my community, and I really wanted Black women to be able to access breathwork in a personalized, customized way that is specific to their experience,” says Marie. So, in 2019, she started black girls breathing. Making the Connection Monica Terry “Our community is highly stressed and sometimes there is a lack of addressing mental health issues and how that affects our physical health,” says Marie. The connection between chronic stress in the Black community and how it links to breast cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure, as well as the below prevalence of each, drove Marie to connect with as many Black women as possible. Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than White women.Black women have a higher chance of dying from heart disease, compared to White women.More than 40% of non-Hispanic blacks have high blood pressure. Jasmine Marie I thought breathwork could be a preventable tool that one could incorporate past the sessions to really help get those stress levels down, and over time be able to make an impact. — Jasmine Marie Initially, she offered in-person sessions in Atlanta, where she is currently based, but also toured Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington DC to provide sessions. “Our tour sold out, and that gave me more validation that people really needed this. We also had virtual sessions going on at the same time,” says Marie. Pandemic Proves More Need When the pandemic hit, black girls breathing stopped all in-person sessions. Since June 2020, it has provided two virtual breathwork circles per month, with the incorporation of a licensed therapist into its sessions monthly. The black girls breathing community consists of more than 16,000 Black women of all ages and mainly from North America, Canada, United Kingdom, and Africa. Monica Terry Each session, Marie leads between 350 to 450 women through breathwork. She describes breathwork as an active meditation and tool used to retrain the nervous system’s response to trauma and triggers, explaining that breathwork focuses on the duration of breath, repetition, and frequency with hopes of activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to recover from stress. “In our Western culture, especially for marginalized communities, there’s a norm of chronic stress, so that parasympathetic nervous system isn’t really responding in the way it used to because your body is overtaxed and [producing] high cortisol levels,” says Marie. “We use breathwork as a tool to strengthen that aspect of the nervous system and its automatic response.” The first part of each session taps into a breathwork pattern, and then the second part focuses on control rest, which encourages participants to allow themselves to be comfortable doing nothing. “[This] is hard for a lot of people. For Black women, it’s extremely hard, they can’t sit still,” says Marie. Up to 150 of the women who attend each of Marie’s sessions are able to participate for free, and the rest have access to the sessions on a sliding scale: $0 to $15 is reserved for those who are financially strained and $20 to $25 for others. “If we look at resources now, even the ones that are tailored for Black women, a lot of the mental health resources require you to apply for free therapy, but you have to wait six months to hear if you qualify, and that’s not really addressing the issue or being a real-time resource when people are experiencing extreme trauma,” says Marie. “Then the financial strains of COVID exacerbated the gaps.” According to a survey conducted by black girls breathing, 88% of its community members stated that black girls breathing was a resource they relied on while feeling the effects of collective grief, isolation, uncertainty, and stress during the pandemic. Jasmine Marie Our virtual sessions became their only way of connecting and feeling like they were part of a community while combating extreme loneliness, isolation, and grief. Stats show that the Black community and indigenous communities have been most impacted by COVID, but when it shows up in the stories and the experiences in your community, it’s different. — Jasmine Marie Additionally, as the world became more aware of the social injustices that the Black community faces, Marie says it drove a sense of hope for the Black community that others are listening. Yet, she says, it’s important to remember that Black women have felt the effects of social injustices their entire lives. “As this opened up more [conversations] last year, and we saw more support for resources like ours, it was a sigh of relief, but there is more to be done,” says Marie. Healing Conversation in Addition to Breathing Marie begins each session with dialogue based on themes related to Black women and mental health. For instance, some topics she initiates include stigma around mental health, breaking generational connections to shame and taking care of one’s mental health, religion’s role in mental health, and more. Additionally, many conversations about feeling alone in their struggles with mental health arise. “Sharing and creating and fostering an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their challenges can affirm for others going through the same challenges that they are not alone. That’s really soothing and medicine in itself. Also, it shows it’s OK to take care of our mental health,” says Marie. Advocating Beyond Breath In addition to providing breathwork sessions to her community, Marie also partners with corporations to hold breathwork sessions for their employees, though she is careful about who she partners with. “[We choose] only those who support our work in a way it makes a difference and is not just a surface-level slap-on solution, where they’re trying to be [perceived] a certain way,” notes Marie. She also hopes to utilize the black girls breathing community to help break health disparities. Jasmine Marie We love our breathwork, but we are more tasked to use the engagement of our community to collect data and use that data to impact on a broader level—whether through policy or programming—to have an impact on the healthcare industry at large. — Jasmine Marie For instance, Marie says a common misconception is that access to health insurance is the reason Black women are not getting their needs met, yet when asked, 89% of the black girls breathing community stated they have health insurance of some kind, whether it is through the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, or another form provided by their employer. Solomon Jones “However, only 28 percent say they have consistent access to mental health care resources outside of black girls breathing,” Marie explains. She aims to partner with leading research institutions to help them collect data about Black women. “There is a lot of stigma toward providing data. If people don’t feel comfortable participating in trials or research, then that impacts the solutions we can create for the community,” she says. She adds that many research studies, which focus on diseases and issues in the Black community are not led by black researchers or may only include minimal insight from a Black researcher. “[This] is an issue because it impacts the lens in which that information is reported and the dissemination of that information,” says Marie. Based on data collected from the black girls breathing community, she has presented information to healthcare providers and insurance companies. She is set to present information at the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s California state headquarters at the end of the year. Marie established an advisory board composed of Black researchers, psychologists, and other practitioners to back her advocacy endeavors. As black girls breathing continues to grow, she hopes to foster a training program centered on providing trauma-informed and grief-informed somatic care. “We then plan to hire black girls breathing breathwork facilitators to work virtually and in our key markets,” she says. black girls breathing An overarching goal for black girls breathing is its pledge to impact 1 million Black women and girls by 2025. “We hope to have in-person sessions again, but with COVID-19, we have to be responsible in how we open up,” says Marie. In the meantime, she says her community is growing fiercely in ways she didn’t anticipate. “We’ve been able to grow our global community because of the pandemic, and we plan to keep going.” Mental Health Resources for the Black Community 5 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychological Association. Stress in America: January 2021 stress snapshot. Published January 29, 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Risk for COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death by race/ethnicity. Updated July 16, 2021. American Cancer Society. Cancer disparities in the Black community. Black Women's Health Imperative. Heart disease in Black women: the big issue you might not know about. Published February 2, 2021. American Heart Association. Heart disease in African American women.