Exploring why there is stigma around mental health issues in the Black community.
Stigma is a major barrier that prevents those in the Black community from seeking treatment for mental illness. Stigmas surrounding mental illness are formed through different experiences, traditions, and education. Personal anecdotes from friends and family also play a key role in formulating stigmas surrounding mental health.
Addressing stigmas surrounding mental health in the Black community is extremely important. This is because mental health issues in the Black community are often more severe due to the psychological stressors of systemic racism. In fact, African American adults are 20% more likely to be severely psychologically distressed than white adults.
However, in the Black community, only 1 in 3 adults will ever receive proper treatment for their mental illness. Much of this disparity ties back to stigma and the mistrust of medical establishments in the Black community.
Mental Health Treatment in the Black Community
There is a large distrust of medical establishments in the Black community. And this mistrust is not unfounded. Black communities have higher rates of misdiagnosis when it comes to physical and mental health issues.
Black communities are also amongst the most religious out of any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. 87% of African Americans report a formal religious affiliation, and oftentimes prayer and faith are seens as a treatment for mental health issues over formal medical treatment.
The criminalization of the Black community also plays a key factor in the stigma surrounding mental health. Even though Black adults make up only 13% of the US population, they make up 33% of the imprisoned population in the US. This is in contrast to the White population which makes up 60% of adults in the US, but they only make up 30% of the imprisoned population.
This stark disparity in imprisonment makes the Black community fearful of openly acknowledging mental health struggles. Whereas for the White population acknowledging mental health struggles would likely lead to treatment, for the Black population statistics show it could likely lead to legal repercussions.
How Can We Reduce Stigma?
There are several ways we can reduce stigma around mental illness. Some include:
Focus on culturally competent care
We need to learn to build trust in our mental health establishments. Connect2Heal is focused on connecting patients with physicians of the same racial/ethnic background. Services like this help patients in communities of color feel more comfortable when seeking mental health treatment.
Increase education on mental illnesses
Educating communities on signs of mental illness, can help more people recognize if they need help. Oftentimes, in underserved communities they may not even know something is a mental illness. Providing more community resources, free events, and sharing information publicly surrounding mental illness will help reduce the stigma.
Oftentimes, the greatest way to bring about change is talking about what feels uncomfortable. Checkout this blog for more resources on mental health and the Black community.
Reminding ourselves that mental health struggles are part of the human experience
We weren’t born to be invincible. Sometimes simply acknowledging the fact that mental health struggles are a key part of the human experience, plays a huge role in reducing the stigma. Telling yourself it’s okay to not be okay, as well as letting your loved ones know the same, helps reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
Acknowledging we all face mental health struggles at points in our lives can be a huge component of helping you heal.
Realizing asking for help is a sign of strength
Having the courage to ask for help or reach out to a mental health professional does NOT make you weak. It’s one of the strongest things you could do. It’s a huge sign that you’re willing to do what it takes to get better. Encouraging people to ask for help is key to reducing the stigmas surrounding mental health, especially in the Black community.
Making care more accessible
Just the way we offer free vaccine clinics and other community resources, making mental health resources more accessible is key.
It’s especially important to have these resources for traditionally underserved communities, such as the Black community. Making access to therapists—especially Black therapists and therapists of color—is crucial if we want people in these communities to seek treatment.
Signs that Someone may be Struggling with their Mental Health
There are various signs someone may exhibit that may indicate they’re struggling with their mental health. Some of these signs include:
- Struggling at work, parenting, or keeping up their home
- Inability to handle stress using normal coping techniques
- Drug and alcohol use
- Significant weight loss or gain/difficulty maintaining a proper appetite
- Taking part in excessively risky behaviors
- Inability to focus
- Restlessness/Lack of sleep
- Loss of interest in activities that typically brought enjoyment
- Panic attacks and/or anxiety attacks
- Socially withdrawing
- Anger or violent episodes
These are just a few signs that someone’s mental health may be declining, but there are many more. Keeping an eye on your loved ones and recognizing the warning signs, is a crucial way to help support the mental health of your loved ones.
What can you do to help someone struggling with mental illness?
The first thing you can do is encourage a loved one to seek professional help if they are struggling with mental illness. Connect2Heal is a great way for them to find a mental health provider they can trust.
In addition to helping them seek professional help, you can help them in their daily life. This could mean helping prepare meals or pick up groceries, help them sort out a leave of absence with their workplace if they need one, call and check in to see how they are, and research different support networks or groups that can benefit your loved one.
The reality is, at one point or another, we all face mental health struggles in our lives. Once we start seeing mental illness as an actual illness that is deserving of treatment, we will help reduce the overall stigmas surrounding it.