Home VanguardSTEM Reveal to Heal: A Mental Health Series for Women of Color in STEM
Reveal to Heal: A Mental Health Series for Women of Color in STEM

Reveal to Heal: A Mental Health Series for Women of Color in STEM


by Chrystelle L. Vilfranc

Part of being proactive about my mental health means doing more of the things that I enjoy, such as non-scientific based writing. I have been working on this series which addresses different aspects of mental health and wellness. In this series, I will share my original pieces as well as helpful mental wellness resources from around the interwebs. This week I’m sharing a few articles about mental health, burnout in STEM, and depression amongst PhDs. Let’s talk about it! Follow me on this journey as we unpack the many layers of mental health and wellness. 

Why is it so important to talk about mental illness? For one, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently listed depression as the leading cause of poor health globally. Brittney McNamara of Teen Vogue breaks down the reports from WHO very well for us.

McNamara reports that in just ten years, WHO has found an 18% increase in the number of individuals living with depression. They have linked depression to other diseases such as, substance use disorders, diabetes, and heart disease. This article reiterates that stigmas surrounding mental illness often prevent individuals from seeking the help that they need. Thankfully, many more people are starting conversations on mental health. Check out McNamara’s piece and other Teen Vogue articles like, The Mighty‘s pieces on Being a Friend With Depression and the Descriptions of Living With Both Anxiety and Depression. Can we applaud Teen Vogue for coming through with the conversations on mental health?


Now let’s get closer to our STEM worlds.

Recently, we stumbled upon an article that highlights burnout in the technology industry, specifically among persons of underrepresented groups. The editor of Modern View Culture, shines light on how activism and lack of diverse representation can take a toll on the mental wellness of individuals in tech. They touch on the importance of diversity in tech and how the lack thereof negatively impacts one’s happiness and mental health. This is one of the reasons, we highlight a different woman of color in STEM every week: to help us see the representation we crave and that many of us do not see on a regular basis in our workspaces.

As we tackle social injustices that disproportionately plague our communities of color, many would admit that it can become emotionally taxing. If you are a more seasoned #VanguardSTEM family member, you might recall a powerful piece released the week Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed, by one of our very own, Natasha Berryman. Whether you are in a STEM field or not apart of STEM at all, this piece will reach you. I encourage you all to read (reread) it and share it.

#BBBinSTEM: When Black Men are Harmed, We All Lose

Lastly for graduate students and faculty, I’d encourage you to read this article from Science magazine. Elisabeth Pain delves into a study done in Flanders, Belgium which revealed that Ph.D. students face significant mental health challenges. Pain reports that about one-third of Ph.D. students are at risk of having or developing a common mental disorder, such as depression. A little more than half of the individuals in the study experienced at least two symptoms that were categorized as poor mental health, which indicated psychological distress. Pain touches on the fact that students are often reluctant to share about their mental health challenges for fear of retaliation.

I’d even argue that it is not just a fear of retaliation; the culture in a lot of our STEM spaces is one of relentless progress at all costs. I tell my friends and family all the time, “Science stops for no one.” This attitude, at times, makes it easier for us to invalidate our feelings of burnout and neglect symptoms of mental illness.


In this series, I am challenging us to peel back the many layers surrounding mental wellness. We will be revealing some of the skeletons that are hiding between those layers. The title of this series, I owe to the Jigga Man himself, Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), and his latest album “4:44”. My favorite line is from the song “Kill Jay-Z”, where Jay says, “You can’t heal what you never reveal.” This is honestly why I speak up about my struggles with maintaining mental wellness. I encourage you all to follow me on this journey.


Next week, I will be unpacking the layers of stigmas around mental illness in communities of color, especially African-American and West-Indian communities. Stay tuned! Until next time, maintain and keep your head in the game!


Chrystelle L. Vilfranc is a native of Brooklyn, NY. She graduated with a B.S.  from Oakwood University. Currently, she is pursuing her doctorate in Cancer and Cell Biology. Her lab studies a highly conserved protein that is a member of the Inhibitor of Apoptosis (IAP) family. This protein has been implicated in biological processes such as apoptosis and DNA damage and repair. One of her projects include understanding its role in DNA damage repair upon liver injury and its impact on liver disease progression.

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