Black mental health matters: what does breaking the stigma look like?
Updated: Aug 13, 2018
Even in 2018, discussions of mental health still aren't as prevalent as they need to be- especially within the black community. There's a certain stigma attached to mental illness, the discussion of mental health and seeking proper help. We [the black community] have been told it's a "white people thing", that we should just pray about it, that it implies that we're "crazy" or "weak" (this goes for black men especially) or that nothing is actually even wrong with us.
All of these things are false.
Did you know that, according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population? Or did you know that only a fourth of African Americans seek mental health care? Or did you know that the rate of suicide among black boys ages five to eleven has more than doubled between 1993 and 2012?
One in five people are affected by mental illness.
The black community is constantly exposed to and experience: social injustices, systemic oppression, police brutality, childhood trauma and many other things so there is no denying the fact that we are susceptible to mental illness just like the rest of the general population.
Mental illness does not care about race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.
Due to lack of information and overall misinformation (in the church, within households, etc.), the black community has trouble recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Misinformation not only makes it difficult to support those who deal with mental health conditions but it also can lead to underestimating the overall impact of mental health conditions.
"Girl, you ain't depressed, you just got the blues.. Snap out of it!"
Even with the amount of misinformation and unwillingness to learn there are still other reasons why the black community is reluctant to seek help: socioeconomic factors, misdiagnosis, inequality of care and finding the right therapist or doctor with the cultural competence to care for an African American patient. (For example: A middle-aged, white man from Kansas would more than likely not have the level of cultural competence it takes to diagnose and help a young black woman from the hood.)
So, what might breaking the stigma look like?
Here are just a few things I came up with: (feel free to add to the list!)
1. Acknowledgement of the presence of mental illness in the black community.
Pretending like something isn't there or that it's not "that big of an issue" will not make it go away and it most certainly will not help fix it. Mental illness is real and people continue to suffer in silence. Men, women and children in the black community are battling everyday. Their anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia, etc are all very real things that have to be acknowledged and talked about.
2. Becoming informed and seeking to attain knowledge about mental health/illnesses.
Nothing is more satisfying than a person who takes the time to learn about something rather than being willfully ignorant. Continuing to be informed and learned about mental health conditions will help further the discussion of mental health in the black community. Speaking to others and speaking to professionals makes you aware of what is actually going on around you.
3. Creating safe spaces to have conversations about mental health so that it becomes more common.
If you don't know, there are platforms like: Healing Melanins, Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black GirlsDepressed While Black.. just to name a few! Spaces like these have been made to help with the discussion of mental health: offering advice, access to resources, coping mechanisms, etc. Without having these safe spaces, it's harder for people to not only open up but to also feel comfortable enough to seek help.
4. Asking for help and helping others when you can.
This goes back to having a safe space, once there is a safe that is established then people will likely be more open to asking for help. Like I've said before: asking for help does not make you weak, does not make you less self-sufficient, does not make you less of a man or anything else. Asking for help makes you human. Once you get the help you need, you then have the knowledge and resources to help others because you have a clearer understanding of mental health and the affects of mental illnesses.
There's is so much more that can be said on this topic, but I just wanted to scratch the surface. To the black community: your mental health matters and should be taken seriously. Let's continue to break the stigma.
Thanks for reading, and don't forget... Be great! xoxo