Mental health has always been a sore subject in the black community. Many of us have generated the unhealthy habit of hiding issues that deeply affect us in our closet of secrets where they don’t have to be acknowledged. We’d rather suffer in silence than seek the help that we need to face our demons and cope with past traumas.
Historical adversity, including slavery and race-based exclusion from health, educational, social and economic resources, translates into socioeconomic disparities experienced by African Americans. Since socioeconomic status is directly related to mental health, those who are poor, incarcerated, homeless or struggle with addiction are at higher risk for mental health issues.
According to a study completed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report having significant psychological distress than non-hispanic whites.
African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crimes, which increases our chances of meeting the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Black adults are also more likely to experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness than white adults. We are also more likely than caucasian teens to attempt suicide.
It’s time to figure out why we choose to sweep our problems under the rug instead of seeking treatment and determine how we can better address mental health.
Historical and more recent instances of negative treatment at the hands of those in power have led to a mistrust of authorities. The feeling that authority figures don’t have black people’s best interest in mind absolutely influences our opinions about psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists.
Less than 2 percent of American Psychology Association members are black according to a Center for American Progress study, and many of us are less inclined to involve ourselves in something that we don’t see people that look like us talking about. This is coupled with the fact that there have been many reports of African Americans experiencing blatant racism and microaggression from therapists. Many of us have a story about the white person who claims they “don’t see color” and attempts to avoid discussing the role that race or culture play in all situations. Unfortunately, therapists are not immune to making offensive or racist remarks as such, which undoubtedly pushes black people away from seeking professional help.
In addition to mistrust of authorities, there are major disparities in access to treatment for mental illness, which have persisted over time. In 2014, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that 15.9 percent of African Americans versus 11.1 percent of white Americans were uninsured, despite the Affordable Care Act helping to close this gap. Lack of insurance most commonly results in an inability to pay for any necessary care and treatment, which leaves no hope for receiving mental health services.
With all of the odds stacked against us and a copious amount of disheartening statistical data, why does the topic of mental health remain largely absent from everyday, public discourse in the Black community?
African Americans hold beliefs related to psychological openness and seeking help, which affects our coping behaviors. Black males are particularly concerned with stigma and being considered less-than due to mental health challenges. As a culture, we have normalized our own suffering. During slavery, we quickly learned that strength is survival, and weakness, such as mental illness, equates to more abuse and ultimately death.
Although times have changed, systematic racism is alive and well. We still feel compelled to be strong and impenetrable, so we keep our secrets to ourselves and push our problems into the deepest crevices of our minds.
Mental health issues continue to threaten the black community, so we must start the conversation of how to combat it. Discussing our insecurities, traumas and inner-most feelings can be extremely difficult, but removing the stigma around mental illness is vital in ensuring that our brothers and sisters receive the help they need.