African Americans and Mental Health
Mental health conditions do not discriminate. Anyone can suffer from a mental health disorder regardless of their race, gender, and economic status. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health conditions and many individuals are diagnosed with both. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you come from; we are all susceptible to mental health conditions and we need to take them seriously.
The Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health state that African Americans are ten percent more likely to experience “serious psychological distress”. Similar to other minority communities, African Americans are more likely to experience socioeconomic disparities such as exclusion from educational, social, economic and health resources. For example, eleven percent of African Americans had no form of health insurance in 2017.
When it comes to mental health, many African Americans do not seek treatment. This is most likely due to stigma. Many in our community still regard mental illness as a taboo subject. For example, clinical depression is often times regarded as a “moral weakness” or “punishment from God” rather than an actual illness that requires medical treatment. After all, we did survive slavery and many years of racial oppression, so of course we can handle depression and anxiety. For many African Americans, our story is one of insurmountable perseverance and strength. However, this mindset may sometimes unintentionally contribute to negative attitudes about mental health. The following guidelines may prevent people from seeking the treatment they need.
Lack of Information Regarding Mental Health
This, of course, goes for a lot of people—not only those in the African American community. There is a problem with recognizing mental health disorders in this country in general. For instance, a person may find it difficult to distinguish clinical depression from “passing sadness” or “the blues”. Clinical depression is so much more than just feeling “sadness”, which is a normal human emotion. However, when it’s clinical depression, the symptoms are much more severe and most of the time there are physical symptoms as well—such as tiredness, bodily aches, and pains. The symptoms of clinical depression do not go away on their own. It is crucial that we teach others (who may not understand) that mental illnesses should be taken with the same seriousness as diabetes or MS. You cannot “snap out” of a depressive episode.
Faith and Spirituality
For many African Americans, community and spiritual beliefs are great sources of support. Many people turn to their friends, family, and church for emotional support. There is nothing wrong with this fact. However, according to research, many will seek help from only those in their own communities instead of a mental health professional when they need one (i.e., a therapist). This, unfortunately, can prevent them from getting the help they need.
Socioeconomic factors can make treatment options less available. As mentioned previously, African Americans are more likely to experience economic disparities, contributing to undiagnosed mental illness and a worse outcome for that illness.
No one, regardless of their background should suffer alone. If you are currently struggling with an undiagnosed mental illness know that you are not alone. I want you to know that you are not alone in your pain and you are not weak. In fact, it takes a lot of courage to seek help for a mental health condition; and there is plenty of help out there. Ask for help; mental illnesses are like any other illness. No one would feel ashamed for having their blood sugar spike, or for having an MS exacerbation. It’s not your fault. No one should ever feel ashamed or blame themselves for having faulty neurotransmitters.
The African American community is like any other community in that everyone wants to live their best life. We all want to be healthy and happy.
The National Council for Behavioral Health puts it this way, “The challenge for communities of color and healthcare providers alike is defining what a healthy community looks like through the prisms of stigma and historical adversity, which includes race-based exclusion from health, educational, social, and economic resources.”
In order to face these challenges, we all need to work together collaboratively as partners. This includes the sufferers of mental illness and their families, their physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, and social workers. Together, we can help eradicate the stigma from mental illnesses and even save lives.
If you are in need of therapy, Core3 is here to help. (888) 203-0113.
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African American Mental Health. (n.d)