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Collage of Yunuen Bonaparte. Photo courtesy of Wilma Mae Basta.

I never saw myself as someone who would need therapy or self-help tools. For as long as I can remember, I have embodied the notion of the “strong black woman.” I am an entrepreneur with a successful career and two lovely children.

I always thought that I could solve whatever came my way on my own; it turned out he was wrong.

At the end of 2004, I met the love of my life, my now husband. We were both coming out of marriages at the time, with children on each side. So, I knew this was not going to be easy. But he wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be.

We had moved to rural England and the countryside was isolated. Between that, leaving my friends in London, and merging with my husband’s family who had just gone through a painful divorce, it was hard for me to cope. Little by little I descended into a severe depression.

If I had known anything about mental health at the time, I would have picked up on the signs: anxiety, uncontrollable emotions, hopelessness. I found that I wanted to be alone most of the time, I was drinking more and more alcohol, I started having panic attacks and many mornings, I felt like it was a herculean effort to get out of bed.

Along with the loss of hope and the feeling of being trapped, I had lost my sense of joy in the things I used to love to do, like cooking, reading, and listening to music.

I even tried to kill myself one morning, which surprised me as I had never had any suicidal thoughts before. It was like my brain snapped back from one moment to the next, and I found myself curled up on my laundry room floor crying, gulping down one Tylenol after another.

Fortunately, my husband found me and took me to the hospital.

I was seen by a mental health officer who surprisingly did not diagnose me with depression. He recommended that I see a general practitioner, who viewed my suicide attempt simply as a result of marital problems. His advice was to give it a few months and see how it went.

I was puzzled by this. It occurred to me later that this doctor, who was in a rural part of England where there are few, if any, blacks, had no cultural competence nor a deep understanding of depression.

So, I went on with my life trying to minimize the drama and keep the pain to myself. But it didn’t go away.

My emotions switched between deep sadness and anger. I struggled just to keep my eyes open at times. Even speaking, moving my mouth to pronounce words, often seemed like too much. It was all overwhelming, and she had no idea what to do about it.

I finally started seeing a therapist on the recommendation of a friend, but at the time, depression was in full swing. After hitting another emotional rock bottom a few weeks later, the only solution I could think of was to ask for a separation from my husband.

I checked into a hotel with my children and cried all night. In the morning, I found that I couldn’t physically move to get out of bed, and this scared me. I called a friend who, after asking my therapist for help, took me to Capio Nightingale Hospital in central London, a psychiatric hospital.

In a million years, I wouldn’t have imagined myself in a place like this. “Strong black women,” at least not this one, did not end up in mental hospitals.

I moved to London without a second thought, built a successful career in PR, traveled the world and seemingly had a life others only dreamed of. But there I was, sitting by the bed as the nurse checked on me, wondering how it had come to this.

Then the nurse asked me a question that at first seemed strange to me: Did I feel safe? I was in a clean, sterilized room that looked like it belonged in a Holiday Inn. Of course I felt safe!

But then I realized What I really felt safe, and understood what she was asking. These people were here for the sole purpose of helping me and taking care of me. That’s when the penny fell.

My life had become this constantly emotionally unstable world that I could no longer navigate or tolerate. Looking back, I think many of the family dynamics I experienced when I first married my husband triggered childhood trauma and unhealthy family dynamics that I hadn’t yet addressed.

But at that moment, in the hospital, I felt like I could back up and someone would be there to catch me. It was an overwhelming feeling. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that support in my entire life. He would spend most of the next 6 weeks at the Capio.

When I finally emerged, I knew that my healing journey was not yet complete, but that I had enough new strength to continue.

While in the hospital, I participated in group and individual therapy sessions and learned more about cognitive behavioral therapy, which helped me change my way of thinking and my behavior.

Still, she was aware that she needed more than therapy, and she knew she didn’t want to take long-term antidepressants.

Most of the doctors at the hospital, as helpful as they were, did not understand my journey as a black woman. There were no tools, sites, or resources geared toward women of color at the time. I had to create my own expedition.

I spent the next 2 years reading and experimenting with different modalities, traditions, teachers, and philosophies. Eventually, I put together a number of things that worked for me, and my personalized mental health toolkit now includes elements of Buddhism, a powerful healing practice called life alignment, Ayurvedic medicine and more.

In 2017, 7 years after I first signed up for Capio, our children are now adults, I moved with my husband to New York City. (He divides his time between New York and London.)

Ready to leave a career in vintage fashion behind, I started a new business called DRK Beauty, which was all about celebrating and supporting Black women and their empowerment.

The original concept was to create a content platform for those who identify as women of color and to work with consumer brands that wanted to support our diverse community through relevant and targeted initiatives rather than simply marketing ourselves as a monolith.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, we had only launched DRK Beauty a few months earlier. Consumer brands were the last thing on people’s minds at the time, and I wasn’t sure what this would mean for our future.

Then one morning in late March 2020, I had a revelation that came as a result of my own mental health experiences.

I realized that the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black and Latino communities was going to lead to huge mental health issues. (This was before the media reported in this.)

And given the difficulty people of color have in getting the right care due to accessibility, affordability, and cultural stigma, I thought DRK Beauty should offer free therapy.

We called the DRK Beauty Healing (DBH) initiative and connected with licensed physicians across the country, asking if they would donate therapy hours to this project. Most agreed.

Surprised and encouraged by the response, we asked our developers to create a simple directory on our website so people could easily access help.

Six weeks later, on May 15, 2020, we launched a few hundred hours of therapy available from the doctors listed in our directory, making it easy for women of color in the United States to access a minimum of 5 hours of therapy. free therapy. Without conditions.

After the murder of George Floyd, even more doctors reached out to us to donate hours. As of July, we had more than 2,000 hours of free therapy and more than 120 licensed physicians in our network, covering 60 percent of the United States.

When I finally had some time to rest and think about the future of DBH, it was clear from its success that we needed to continue it, but what would become of our original business, DRK Beauty?

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Photo by Wilma Mae Basta. Photo by Christelle de Castro.

Feeling that there was not yet a central place for women of color to find the therapists, wellness teachers, healers, and practitioners that we needed, I wanted to change that.

I decided to combine the best of both platforms, DRK Beauty’s wellness content with DBH’s free therapy, and expand it to include a network of wellness professionals, making it a one-stop shop for women of color to meet their mental health needs. .

Now that we’re moving full speed ahead with our revised mission, we’re expanding in other ways as well.

We are excited to partner with Mental Health Website central psychiatry, which will feature compelling content from doctors in our network in the coming months. Specifically, the stories will shine a light on the unique factors and experiences that impact women of color.

In addition, we will co-mode several rooms together in clubhouse during Mental Health Awareness Month in May with special guests and compelling talks on Instagram Live, on topics like identifying depression, managing anxiety and more.

Just a year and a half ago, I couldn’t have imagined that I would be in a position to use my own mental health journey to impact other people’s lives, but I am so grateful that this unique confluence of circumstances has brought me here.

I feel like DRK Beauty found me and revealed my true purpose. Helping women of color will always be our core mission, and I can’t wait to keep finding new and innovative ways to do it.

Watch Wilma Mae Basta share her story in Healthline’s original video series, “Power In,” here.

To support or get involved, make a donation to DRK Beauty Healing herefollow us Instagram, or find free therapy here.


Wilma Mae Basta, originally from Philadelphia, is the mother of two adult children and the daughter of a civil rights leader. He worked in film, television, public relations and luxury vintage fashion before creating DRK Beauty Healing.