AFRICAN AMERICANS AND MENTAL HEALTH: STIGMA, PRECEPTION, AND IGNORANCE
The month of July represents a lot. The feeling of the sun warming your skin, the chlorine smell that radiates from a swimming pool and…National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.
Yes, you read that right.
Next month represents Mental Health Awareness for minorities and we think it is important to talk about mental health issues and why African Americans avoid talking about it within their communities.
As black and ethnically African-American women, we are painfully aware that communities of color experience a set of challenges that prevent us from mental health services. On the Mental Health America website, they stated that historical adversity, such as slavery, race-based exclusion from educational and socio-economic resources, has pushed African Americans to be at risk for poor mental health.
For example, stereotypical and prejudicial acts done towards black bodies has caused us to be treated negatively and unfairly within the health care system. This “negative treatment have led to a mistrust of authorities, many of whom are not seen as having the best interest of Blacks/ Africa Americans in mind” (Mental Health America, Black & African American Communities and Mental Health).
Thanks to a study focused on African Americans with mental illness, conducted by Earlise Ward, Jacqueline C. Wiltshire, Michelle A. Detry, and Dr. R. L. Brown, we know that there are statistical data that substantiates the problem between mental health in the black community.
The facts are:
Adult Black/African Americans living below poverty are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty
Adult Black/African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites
And while Black/African Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, Black/African Americans teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers 8.3 percent v. 6.2 percent
*Statically data was taken from the study and Mental Health America.
As you can see, African Americans are put at a disadvantage in regards to mental health. We have everything working against us. Many people in the black community know these facts, but unfortunately, most do not do anything to combat or prevent depression, anxiety or any other form of mental illness.
Why is that?
Why are too many African Americans quick to sweep bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress, depression, eating disorder and alcoholism under the rug?
We, the authors and editors at this website, always thought that black conservativeness towards addressing mental health issues arose from a place of shame and blissful ignorance. We reached out to our black friends, and one person observed that “the black community doesn’t talk about mental health and what happens at home stays at home.” Another person said when it comes to mental health “black people assume that the individual needs corporal punishment to get them in line. Depression, especially in the black community, is frowned upon and viewed as a sign of weakness.”
According to Psychology Today, many African Americans are unaware that they have a mental illness because of the stigma and taboo black people have placed on the issue and course of treatment.
While there are a striking stigma and disparity, it is important to keep in mind the point that we made about racism and how that negatively impacts our mental health. Many people, quite frankly, are afraid to acknowledge mental issues within their community because 1) others will judge you and 2) psychotherapy professionals, who are predominately white, exuded racism or lacked cultural knowledge of our ethnicity.
While we cannot, by any means, mind the gap between African Americans and mental health, we can say that it is important for our community to trust the mental health system in place and ignore the social chatter that will arise. As for psychiatrists and doctors, they must be willing to recognize and combat prejudicial attitudes towards black bodies and increase their socio-cultural understanding. With both groups working together, we can decrease the disparity between ethnic monitories and health care(Williams, Psychology Today).
Question: What do you think about mental illness in the black community? How are the issues viewed?
Until Next Time,
“Your life is happening now. Make it amazing!”
"Black & African American Communities and Mental Health." Mental Health America. N.p., 01 May 1970. Web. 15 June 2017.
Williams, Monnica. "Why African Americans Avoid Psychotherapy." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 02 Nov. 2011. Web. 15 June 2017