Why is Black Mental Health Important?
Before we answer this question, let’s talk about why mental health is important. Our mental health shows up in how we think, feel, and act. The better our mental health, the better we think, feel and act. This makes taking care of our mental health extremely important because it can affect every aspect of our lives. For all people, it is not a luxury but a necessity. Our mental health affects everything from relationships with friends and family members to our productivity at work or school. In addition, our mental health is impacted by situations we face or experiences we have. When discussing what makes black mental health important, there are other factors to consider. It is well known that racism, discrimination, inequality and oppression impact mental, physical and spiritual health. Experiencing and even witnessing racism and discrimination is a traumatic experience, known to produce harmful effects on mental health functioning. This is often referred to as racial stress or trauma and like other traumas, a person may feel:
- Fear or hypervigilance
- Helplessness and/or powerlessness
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Recurring thoughts or images of the event
- Body aches
Rates of posttraumatic stress disorder are rising higher among Black Americans compared with other racial/ethnic groups. Consider these facts reported from the US HHS Office of Minority Health.
- In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for blacks or African Americans, ages 15 to 24, while in 2018 it was 60% lower than non-Hispanic white population.
- The death rate from suicide for black or African American men was four times greater than for African American women, in 2018.
- Black females, grades 9-12, were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide in 2019, as compared to non-Hispanic white females of the same age.
- Poverty level affects mental health status. Black or African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress.
- A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233 percentage, as compared to 120 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
In addition, barriers such as stigma, distrust of the healthcare system, lack of diverse providers, lack of culturally competent providers, and lack of insurance, or underinsurance are also a factor for black/African Americans.
So what should be done? The need for mental health services to black/African Americans is a given. However, only one in three Black/African American adults who need mental health care receive it. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Mental Health Facts for African Americans guide, they are also:
- Less likely to receive guideline-consistent care
- Less frequently included in research
- More likely to use emergency rooms or primary care (rather than mental health specialists)
If you are reading this and you are a black person, it may help to just become aware that therapy can help you in carrying the weights you have. It is not healthy to carry these burdens alone and seeking help is an act of strength and self-preservation. Therapy can help resolve the trauma. It can empower you to rise from hopelessness to make beneficial changes in how you live.
Don’t wait until you are in crisis mode or about to break. Once things calm down you are likely to go back to the patterns that brought to therapy to begin with. If possible, seek therapy before crisis so you can learn skills to manage your life rather than continually hoping that things will work out.
You can interview your therapist. It is perfectly normal to ask questions to the person you will be sharing personal information. Finding a culturally responsive therapist is important. This means finding a therapist who create a safe space for you and respect any differences in opinions, values, and attitudes of various cultures and different types of people. It is ok to ask if the therapist is culturally responsive before making an appointment. In addition, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the process and share what your needs are from that therapist.
If you are an ally, listen to and support the black/African Americans in your life. You don’t have to have any answers. In many cases it is best if you don’t offer any. Listening is a powerful and underused tool. Just to be in the room, to say I hear you or I’m here for you is enough. Pay attention to words like, I’m tired, frustrated, etc. Offering time can also be helpful if the person indicates. Support mental health organizations that support black mental health.
We have included a few at the end of this article.
- Black Virtual Therapist Network
- Therapy for Black Men
- Association for Black Therapists
- The Love Land Foundation – healing for women of color, especially black women and girls
- Therapy for Black Girls
- The Boris Henson Foundation – eradicating stigma around mental health issues in the African-American community
- Resources for Black (Trans)women & LGBT+ People
Liberate – mindfulness tools for people of color
Insight Timer – playlist of meditation from teachers of color