According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), African Americans are 20% more likely than white Americans to experience serious mental health problems.” But at the same time, Black Americans are ten times less likely to seek treatment for mental health than white Americans. Mental health can be a particularly complex and sensitive issue for Black people, as we deal with systematic racism, discrimination, and intergenerational trauma. To buck this trend, it’s vital that we address the stigma around mental health within the community. By fostering a safe and inclusive environment for Black mental health, we can support our peers in their healing journey and work towards breaking down barriers to accessing care.
What Is the Current State of Black Mental Health?
Research shows that about 25% of Black Americans seek mental health treatment, compared to 40% of white Americans. Unequal access to care is a key contributor to this disparity, with nearly 10% of Black Americans carrying no health insurance, compared to 5.2% of non-Hispanic white Americans.
In addition to unequal access to care and accessibility limitations, several other factors contribute to the current state of Black mental health, including historical and ongoing racial trauma, such as the legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism. This trauma can lead to mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Another factor is the stigma surrounding mental health within the Black community. There’s a deeply ingrained belief in the community that seeking help for mental health makes you weak, and that you should cope with your problems on your own. This prevents many Black people from seeking the help they need.
The COVID-19 pandemic also had a significant impact on Black mental health, as the Black community was disproportionately affected by the pandemic — in terms of infection rates and deaths, and economic and social impact. The stress and uncertainty of the pandemic have also contributed to increased levels of anxiety and depression among Black people.
From Dr. Jan Newby, The Anger Doctor / Balance Life Mind – “Prioritizing our Mental health should be a daily lifestyle pursuit. Having safe spaces for Black America to discuss Mental Health can be beneficial on countless agendas and should be an essential part of an individual lifestyle.”
How Can We Create Safe Spaces for Black People to Talk About Their Mental Health?
Friendship plays a leading role in offering mental health support and empowerment in the Black community. Black friendships can be a source of healing when dealing with discrimination or racial trauma. Forming close relationships and friendships helps create a safe space where people feel comfortable talking about their struggles. Sharing experiences and feelings with others who have similar experiences can be incredibly validating and empowering. What’s more, strong friendships can lessen your risk of depression and anxiety.
Our individual experiences and exposure shapes how we see ourselves – choosing to share personal perspectives with others can build a supportive positive safe space in how we engage with the world around us.– DR. JAN NEWBY
To create a safe space where your friends feel safe talking about mental health, try:
- Sharing your own feelings. Lead by example and open up with your circle about things you’re dealing with, emotions you’re feeling, and steps you’re taking to feel better, such as therapy or self-care.
- Being present and attentive. Listen actively and show that you care by providing your full attention and avoiding distractions when friends or family members are opening up to you about their mental health struggles.
- Educating yourself. Learn as much as you can about different mental health conditions so you can be as supportive as possible. If someone opens up to you about a condition you are not aware of, take the time to educate yourself before trying to offer advice.
- Encouraging others to seek professional help. Let your loved ones know that seeking professional help is a sign of strength — not weakness — and encourage them to consider talking to a mental health professional if they are struggling.
How Can We Reduce the Stigma Around Mental Health in the Black Community?
NAMI offers the following actionable advice for reducing stigma around mental health in the Black community:
- Raise awareness: Stigma stems from a lack of information. The best way to fight back is through education. We have resources you can share with your loved ones below.
- Speak up: Be open with your friends and family about struggles you’re going through and mental health conditions you’re dealing with — and encourage them to do the same. As more Black people open up about living with a mental illness, the closer we will get to dismantling the stigma.
- Believe people: Believing people when they say they have a mental illness is a vital part of eradicating stigma. When someone experiences a mental health crisis or expresses emotional distress, suggesting that they should just “pray it away” or “fix their attitude” is not helpful. Dismissing the reality of mental illness and being unsupportive in our advice can discourage people from seeking the help they need and deserve.
What Resources Are Available to Help Black People Access Mental Health Services?
The following resources are intended to provide greater the Black community with greater accessibility to mental health services:
- The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation
- Inclusive Therapists
- Clinicians of Color Directory
- Melanin & Mental Health Directory
- Black Emotional And Mental Health (BEAM) Virtual Therapist Network
- Therapy for Black Girls Directory
- Therapy for Black Men Directory
At the end of the day when you feel safe to let your guard down and be vulnerable from the once exhaustive emotional tension felt from sharing mental health concerns, a sense of relief in a safe space can be rewarding.DR. JAN NEWBY
How Can Allies Support Black Mental Health?
As an ally, there are several ways to support Black mental health, such as:
- Educate yourself about the unique experiences and challenges that Black people face in terms of mental health.
- Listen actively and validate their experiences and concerns. Acknowledge their struggles and offer support.
- Advocate for change by speaking out against systemic racism and the lack of resources and support for Black people struggling with mental health.
- Encourage self-care and seeking therapy.
- Check-in regularly with your Black friends and loved ones.
- Address your own biases and be willing to challenge and change them to create a more inclusive and supportive environment.
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