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Mental Health in Black Communities

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — July 10, 2020 — 4 min read
Over 7 million Black citizens reported having a mental illness according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

In 2018, 58.2 percent of Black young adults and 50.1 percent of adults with serious mental illness did not receive treatment.

And in 2017, it was also reported that nearly 90 percent of Black individuals over the age of 12 with substance use disorder did not receive treatment.

So, why are millions of Black citizens not receiving proper mental health care? Read below to find out.
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Environmental Factors in Black Mental Health

Culturally and historically, Black Americans deal with different challenges than white Americans in the United States.

Black Americans whose families have lived in America over generations may be at a greater risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. This is because of historical trauma. Scientists are now studying how that trauma can be passed down through generations.

Black Americans are also more likely to live below the poverty line compared to white Americans. Research has shown that those who live in poverty, especially in early childhood, are at a higher risk of mental illness. Black teenagers are at a higher risk of attempting or dying from suicide compared to their white peers.

Poverty can also impact access to care—to get decent mental health care, the following is necessary:
  • Adequate health insurance
  • Transportation to the health care facility
  • Finances to cover the health care costs
In addition to these factors above, there are cultural barriers.

Cultural Factors in Black Mental Health

More people are talking about mental health these days—which is great! The stigma of being diagnosed with a mental illness is fading every year. However, silence before a diagnosis can also be harmful.

According to one study from 2013, researchers found that many Black Americans are not open to being diagnosed with a mental illness. Instead, many turned to “religious coping” to deal with their mental illness. In another study from 2010, the researchers found that many Black American adults felt negatively about mental illness, like it was a “sign of weakness.”

This is beginning to change as mental health becomes more widely and openly discussed and mental health organizations actively work to reach the Black community.

Disparities in Black Mental Health Care

Not all therapists and mental health professionals are the same. While many do great work and have been trained to recognize their unconscious racial and gender bias, many haven’t.

There is plenty of evidence showing that Black Americans don’t receive the same quality of treatment compared to their white peers. This could have to do with financial barriers, but it also has a lot to do with implicit (unconscious) bias. Many Black Americans are not taken as seriously by health professionals.

Furthermore, Black Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia rather than a mood disorder compared to their white peers with the same symptoms.

While more Black Americans are seeking treatment, they are offered medical treatment, medication, or therapy at a much lower rate than the white population.

Only two percent of the American Psychological Association members are Black, making it harder for Black Americans to find a therapist that shares their ethnic background. And therapists who are not Black may unconsciously use microaggressions* against their Black patients and drive them away from therapy forever.

*A microaggression is a brief and common daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental communication, whether intentional or unintentional, that transmits hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to a target person because they belong to a stigmatized group. For example, if a therapist said, “I don’t see you as Black. I just see you as a regular person,” that’s a microaggression.

What Needs to Be Done to Support Black Mental Health?

We must continue to break down the stigma associated with mental illness. By destigmatizing mental health support, we open the door to mental health healing for all communities around the U.S.

White allies must listen without judgment when a Black peer or colleague discusses their feelings—especially if they point out racism and discrimination. By validating their experiences, they are supporting their colleague’s mental and emotional health.

The U.S. needs more Black mental health care professionals.

We must support initiatives to change our society’s response to homelessness, substance use disorder, and mental illness. Culturally competent trained mental health professionals would be ideal resources for those facing these problems.

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