Episode #84: The State of Black Girls & Mental Health with Marline Francois-Madden

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Wellness visionary & inspirational speaker, author of Let Your Fears Make You Fierce, & Founder of The Get Loved Up Community. My core mission is to promote daily self-care, oneness & eco-friendly living.

Hi, I'm Koya

“We know as Black women we have to work ten times harder than our counterparts.”

Hi, Love. I am so glad you chose to share your time with me today. 

We’re going to be talking about something that has been a pressing issue for a while — mental health. 

Right now, we are at an all-time high of mental health and suicide cases. There are many reasons why these issues arise, and I’m sure you have more than likely dealt with mental distress over the last year during the pandemic. Though those times may seem dark, know that the light is always there to guide you.

I know that the issues surrounding the stress of mental health can be a complex subject. That is why I am so happy to have Marline Francios-Madden here to talk with us about it. Marline is an advocate for taking charge of your mental health in a nurturing and uplifting way. 

In this interview, we talk about emotional boundaries, creating space for yourself, and the state of mental health in black girls in the nation right now. I loved being part of this conversation and know it will be a time of reflection that will lift your spirit as you read along. 

Who is Marline Francios-Madden?

Marline Francios-Madden is the CEO of Hearts Empowerment Counseling Center. Based in Essex County, New Jersey, HECC provides a safe space for women and girls to participate in individual, group, and family therapy. The goal at HECC is to improve the lives of their clients in a non-judgemental and culturally sensitive environment.

In addition to her counseling work, Marline is the author of the best-selling book, The State of Black Girls: A Go-To Guide for Creating Safe Space for Black Girls. In her book, she covers pressing mental health issues in our society:

“I created the State of Black Girls out of necessity because I got tired of not seeing books on the shelves that were designed for black girls to give them strategies and tips to really help their mental health. I would hear stories of black girls dying by suicide, and the more I would listen to those stories, the more I said I needed to do something.” – Marline Francios-Madden

After more than fifteen years in the mental health field, Marline has become a sought-after expert on mental health, self-care, and equity for black girls. She has shared her expertise at universities, community organizations, and church conferences, including the congressional black caucus for women and girls.

Marline is a pivotal force for change who mindfully works at the intersection between black girls, political policy, and mental health. She also serves as the committee chair at The National Association of Social Workers and has been nominated as a changemaker by the White House Summit during the Obama Administration. 

After reading her book, I became an admirer of her fierce energy and desire to drive change in society. Her insights into mental health and the wisdom she shares are truly life-changing. I am so excited to share this interview with you all on the Get Loved Up podcast.

You Are Not Alone in Your Mental Health Struggle

When reading her book, I felt like Marline was telling my story through her writing, and I know others that read it feel the same way. Many girls in today’s culture feel alone and have no platform to share their mental health issues. It leaves so many people saying, “I feel like I’m by myself. Is anybody else experiencing this?” That is why I had to ask Marline if she had ever felt the same way.

“Absolutely. I have definitely felt that way. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. I held it in for so long and did not tell my parents about it, so it [left me] feeling like I was alone and girls were not experiencing it. For me, I dived into magazines and would read ‘Ask an Expert’ columns, just to see if other girls were sharing those stories.” – Marline Francios-Madden

Have you ever felt this way? Did you ever have a moment in your life where you had to stop and ask yourself, “Does anybody else feel like they are completely alone?” I am sure most of you connect with that emotion. One thing Marline explained was how sharing her story helped her with that feeling.

“I grew up in a very strict Christian household with Haitian immigrant parents. So [I had] a bicultural identity of being Hatian in my household, but being a black girl when I left my home and went to school. Having to figure out the intersection of my identities was a lot to manage as an adolescent girl. But when I got older, I recognized there were so many other people that went through it too.” – Marline Francios-Madden

Marline’s ability to tell her story allowed her to grow and love herself for who she was. I have experienced similar situations, and when I told my story, I felt something inside me release. The negative energy that was building inside of me disappeared. Marline and I both agree that one of the best ways to release that past trauma is to have a community where you are safe to share.

“For me, having a community that loves and cares about your authentic self [is so important]. I feel like as you grow into a working professional and you are a multi-faceted entrepreneur, it can get very hard if you end up finding friends that aren’t connecting on a deeper level.So for me, it’s very important to have people you can be authentic and vulnerable around.” – Marline Francios-Madden

I completely agree with her wisdom about having a community. Sometimes it is not easy to take the step towards connection with others, but it is worth it when you do. Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who accept you; it gives you a place to release the weight of your story and uplift your spirit.

Set Healthy Boundaries for Self-Care

When I talked with her, I asked Marline about the most challenging time in her life where she learned how to set healthy personal boundaries.

“I would say one of the hardest things [I have been through] was when my father got really sick. When he first got sick, I had just gone into private practice but was still working a job. [I had] to help other people with their mental health concerns, but in that same moment, I was feeling a build-up of anxiety happening. [I thought], ‘What if I get a phone call that tells me he doesn’t make it?’ … but I still had to sit there and show up for clients.” – Marline Francios-Madden

Even in the hardest time of her life, Marline had the presence she needed to realize she needed to slow down. Her practice of setting healthy boundaries and self-care made it possible for her to keep going:

“That’s when I realized I was going to have to slow down. But what does that look like? Does it look like taking time off work? For my own sanity, I needed a break; I needed to go away. When I came back, he was in rehabilitation and getting better.” – Marline Francios-Madden

I am so inspired by her ability to know that if her cup was not full, she could not overflow into the lives of the people around her. After she shared her story, I had to ask her — what advice do you have for people who don’t know how to set healthy boundaries for themselves?

“I would say that you start small. Sometimes it’s hard depending on your circumstances and who you are around. … You may be a people pleaser, and you can’t say no. If you’re a people pleaser, it’s up to you to slowly make changes and know that people will not dislike you because you choose yourself. … I always tell people, ‘Look at your schedule and see if you have placed any time for yourself.’” – Marline Francios-Madden

This advice is so important right now. If you are anything like me, I know you are busier than you should be. The idea of scheduling yourself into your calendar is a great way to step back, breathe, and practice self-care.

If You’re Working With Black Girls, Read The State of Black Girls

Marline’s book is so impactful—I cannot emphasize that enough. This book is not just for black girls; it’s for anyone who needs a space for healthy dialogue about personal struggle.

“I am so proud of this baby project that I created. It’s broken down into sections. When you start off with the book, it’s related to the lived experiences of black girls, [like] social media, sisterhood, or self-esteem. Then it goes into mental health related topics. There’s a chapter that says, ‘Dear Parents,’ so parents can have a space to read about what to do if their daughter is dealing with depression.” – Marline Francios-Madden

I love that she cares enough about the reader to give them the space to cover topics when they feel comfortable with rather than making them experience the information all at once. One great example of this is at the beginning of the chapter about sexual abuse:

“In the chapter that’s on sexual abuse, the first sentence just says, ‘Hey, if this chapter is too hard to read, skip it, take a break.’ It’s okay. You do not have to sit through the chapter because I want girls to know that they don’t have [to experience everything immediately]. They can go ahead and skip it, then get back to it when they are more comfortable or have the support around them that they need to read the chapter.” – Marline Francios-Madden

Marline wrote much of the book from her own lived experiences and has used her past trauma to reach an incredible amount of people. I 100% believe that everybody should read this book, especially if you want to create safe spaces for black girls. I am so proud of Marline’s work and love the impact it is making on the world.

Get Loved Up with Marline Francios-Madden

This interview with Marline Francios-Madden was so powerful, and I was so honored to have her share her wisdom on the show. There is no way I could fit everything we talked about in this post, so check out the whole interview here. She covered so much more about mental health and self-value, and it is definitely worth watching.

If you want to know more about Marline’s mission, visit The State of Black Girls website. She has a ton of great information about mental health in the black community and her mission to reach one million girls. You can also connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

My interview with her was such an uplifting experience. Her mission to create a positive impact on the world is an inspiration to me, and I hope it inspires you as well. If so, tag Marline, @marlinefrancios, and me, @@koyawebb, on Instagram with a screenshot of the episode and your most significant takeaways. We would love to hear what you learned.

Until next time, Love, practice self-care and remember to fill your cup. I love you.



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  • Emotional Boundaries & Naomi Osaka (3:45)
  • Inspiration for The State of Black Girls (8:00)
  • You Are Not Alone (10:15)
  • Releasing Trauma & Having a Community (13:10)
  • If You’re Working With Black Girls, Read This Book (17:00)
  • Dealing With the Hardest Challenges (20:45)
  • Creating the Space for Yourself (22:00)
  • You Are Still Worthy if You Delegate (28:00)
  • The Importance of Therapy…With a Black Therapist (30:30)
  • Know Your Strengths & Balance Your Schedule (35:20)
  • Marline’s Favorite Books & Podcasts (38:00)

Links mentioned in this episode:

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