Black/African Americans and Mental Health

Why is it that members of the black community are less likely to seek services for mental health? Is it the mistrust in healthcare professionals? Stigma? Cultural barriers? Lack of access? Or is it the safety nest of relying on family, friends and the religious community? Whatever it may be how do we fix it? What other mental hurdles keep black people from seeking assistance? Believe it or not, the list continues. Many will seek help for physical concerns, but not mental disorders. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that Black and Hispanic respondents had equal or higher rates of depression than Whites. According to The US Department of Health and Human Services (OMH), in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for blacks or African Americans, ages 15 to 24. Black or African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports only 1 and 3 black adults with mental illness received treatment.

Stigma comes from the lack of understanding and fear that leads to the reluctance to seek help. It is time to eliminate negative stigmas like only crazy people see shrinks, therapy and sharing your feelings make you weak, it’s a waste of money and the “I can handle it myself” approach. What other negative stigmas associated with black therapy come to mind? Let’s not forget the stigma behind the journey in itself of finding a therapist that can relate culturally. As some stigmas may be more discouraging than others, the time to eliminate them is now.

Knowledge is power. First step to seeking help is to know the signs. Let’s take a stroke episode for an example: You have to know the signs and quickly seek help when the signs first present itself. Signs such as facial droop, one sided weakness and trouble speaking. While mental illness has signs that impact our daily functioning such as poor appetite, loss of interest, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, irritability, increase in risk taking behaviors, racing thoughts and so much more. It is so very important to know the signs.

Let’s change the perspective and encourage ourselves and others to live a happy, positive and successful life. Many black success stories include battles with mental health. Celebrities such as actresses Taraji P. Henson, Jennifer Lewis, hip hop artists Jay Z, Kid Cudi and first lady Michelle Obama – all detailed times in their lives where they sought the help needed and continued to thrive as individuals. 

Treatment is available. Please do not suffer in silence. Acting as if the signs/symptoms are not there will not make it go away. Face the fears and push forward. 

Seek help and reach out to a well-trained mental health professional. Encourage other loved ones to do the same. 

Team work makes the dream work! Each one, teach one! Greatness awaits!


National Institute of Minorities Health and Health Disparities

Constance White, MA, LPC

Constance White, MA, LPC is brilliant clinician who assist clients experiencing general mental health challenges reach their full potential

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