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RISE Blog | Black History Month: Discussing Mental Health Disparities

By: Sochinenyenwa Onubogu, Peer Educator
February 24th, 2022

During Black History Month we aspire to celebrate the triumphs and achievements of our past and present black inventors, artists, professors, and many more. We have so much to be thankful for, and it is important to celebrate the positives. But it is also necessary that we look into the disparities within the black community, specifically pertaining to the dismissive nature of discussing mental health. 

Having conversations about mental health within the black community will only allow for more progress. Celebrating the positives is just as important as acknowledging and tackling the negatives. I hope that when you read this, you will be able to take away some piece of information to spread awareness.

Our History of Stigma

When we trace back the history of addressing mental health within the black community, we find that there were no measures taken to tackle these issues. When African Americans were subjected to slavery in America, it was a common thought that slaves were not “developed” or “civil” enough to comprehend such topics of depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorders. Within African tribes, there was really “no such thing” as mental illness. From generation to generation, we continued to hide our emotions which lead to detriment to our well-being. This idea of black men and women having this known “strength” to handle anything only served to hurt us as a community. While we are strong and have shown perseverance countless times, we have waited too long to discuss the importance of our mental health disparities.

Statistics: Black Mental Health in America

According to Mental Health America, within the last five years it has been reported that:

  • Adult Black Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult white Americans.
  • Black American teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than White teenagers.
  • 4.8 million Black and African American people reported having a mental illness, 1.1 million of that pool has reported a serious mental illness over the past year.

The results of a 2013 study found that:

  • Black and African American people are more often diagnosed with schizophrenia and less often diagnosed with mood disorders compared to white people with the same symptoms. Additionally, they are offered medication or therapy at lower rates than the general population.
  • Because less than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members are Black or African American, some may worry that mental health practitioners are not culturally competent enough to treat their specific issues. 
  • Stigma and judgment prevent Black and African American people from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses. Research indicates that Blacks and African Americans believe that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles. Furthermore, many believe that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate, even among families.

After viewing these statistics, it is important to take away some key points. The black community is largely underrepresented in several important organizations including the American Psychological Association. It may be easier to see how difficult it has been to spark a breakthrough for discussing mental health disparities. The concept of social/familial shaming when deciding to address a mental health disparity has also turned many away from trying to better their mental health initially.

The Future of Black Mental Health

In this post, I aimed to acknowledge and tackle the disadvantages of black mental health disparities. It is also important to note the progress we have made as a community: like how we have created access to several resources. There are now numerous podcasts, directories/networks, and therapists available to our community. I will list a few here along with a link to many more:

  • Balanced Black Girl Podcast - @balancedblackgirlpodcast on Instagram
  • Black Female Therapists - @blackfemaletherapists on Instagram
  • Thema Bryant-Davis, Ph.D. - @dr.thema on Instagram
  • Black Mental Wellness - @blackmentalwellness on Instagram
  • Transparent Black Guy - @transparentblackguy on Instagram
  • Therapyforblackmen.org
  • Therapyforqpoc.org
  • Inclusivetherapists.com

These are only a handful of resources that we now have access to. The progress we have made to cater to our mental health has only just begun. I encourage you to take and share this information with someone who may know nothing about it. Mental health resources are on the rise, and I hope this post contributes to the bigger picture. Happy Black History Month!

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