This year’s theme for Black History Month is “Black Health and Wellness,” set by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The theme not only commemorates African Americans who made contributions to medicine but also highlights ongoing issues within the Black community, including mental health.
“Black Health and Wellness not only includes one’s physical body, but also emotional and mental health,” the organization said on its website. “At this point in the 21st century, our understanding of Black health and wellness is broader and more nuanced than ever.”
Mental health statistics among Black community
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans between 15 and 24 years old. In 2018, the death rate from suicide for Black or African American men was four times greater than for African American women.
Also, a 2001 report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 to 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233 percent, as compared to 120 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Amanda Mims of Jackson, Mississippi, said she has battled depression and anxiety since childhood and currently struggles daily with them, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating her condition.
She even wrote a suicide letter in 2007.
Mims, now 36, said she has been seeking therapy since she was a college student.
“I moved from D.C. to Mississippi in the early months of the pandemic so I knew that I needed support on a huge level,” she told FOX Television Stations. “However, how could I navigate it during a pandemic? That is where the online therapy platform, BetterHelp, came into play. I discovered my therapist on there and have been actively seeing him for the bulk of this pandemic.”
Mims said therapy and writing have been a crucial help in overcoming her battles.
“Writing is healing and therapeutic for me, and my therapist has encouraged me to do some life-changing writing,” she continued.
Psychologists say mental health challenges are prevalent in every culture.
“Mental health is the capacity or ability to cope with life’s stressors and life’s changes,” Dr. Joanne Frederick, a Washington, D.C.-based licensed mental health counselor, told FOX Television Stations. “So, in theory, everyone has mental health, it just depends on an individual’s range of mental health from poor mental health to healthy mental health.”
“In the Black community, people’s mental health ranges from poor to healthy. In which everyone in the Black community has mental health, it just ranges.” Frederick added.
Reasons for mental health challenges in the Black community
Psychologists cite several reasons for mental health issues within the Black community, including being the victim of racism.
“As Black people, we deal with something called Mundane Extreme Environmental Stress (MEES). It’s the unique stress of African Americans who experience the dilemma of ‘being Black in white America,’” clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Ford Shabazz told FOX Television Stations.
There were nearly 1,000 more hate crimes committed in 2020 and over 2,800 more victims compared to 2019, with 63% of 2020’s hate crime offenses related to race, ethnicity or ancestry biases, according to updated statistics released by the FBI in October 2021.
Of the attacks, a staggering 279 hate crimes were anti-Asian — a 73% spike from 2019. Meanwhile 2,871 hate crimes were anti-Black or African American, up 45.5% from 2019. Anti-Semitic attacks decreased 29% year over year, FBI data showed.
“Long-term effects of subtle daily experience of bias, discrimination, and racism include stress-related diseases, poor academic performance, health problems, legal involvement, marital conflict, disability, and mental illness,” Shabazz continued.
Some experts point of the lack of treatment for African Americans exacerbates the problem.
“Racial trauma, which is the cumulative effects of racism on one’s physical and mental health, uniquely impacts African Americans and their mental well-being,” psychologist Dr. Richard Orbe-Austin said to FOX Television Stations. “The lack of culturally competent mental health practitioners, especially African American ones, make it difficult for African Americans to receive appropriate treatment for racial trauma and other concerns.”
The stigma of having mental health challenges in the Black community
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, negative attitudes and beliefs towards people who suffer from mental health challenges are prevalent within the U.S. and can be particularly strong within the Black community.
One study showed that 63% of Black people believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness.
“The stigma of a person having mental health issues in the Black community is that this person is violent, unintelligent, or ‘on drugs,’” Frederick added. “Thus, many times mental health issues are overlooked or unaddressed.”
Some experts say that stigma leaves many African Americans to quietly seek mental help outside of a counseling office.
“Other barriers to help seeking have been mistrust of the medical system and gatekeeping by the Black church,” Shabazz explained. “Many still believe that there’s no need to go and sit on a stranger’s couch when they can find what they need in the safety and comfort of a pew, or in prayer with the pastor.”
Mims said she hopes the stigma can be erased.
“Honestly, Black people DESERVE to be mentally healthy and whole,” she added. “We have endured eons of trauma and we deserve an infinite amount of healing.”
What needs to change for the Black community to receive mental health treatment
Mental health experts note better access to healthcare and more conversations are needed to improve mental health treatment for the Black community.
“More discussions about how normal mental health challenges are can reduce stigma,” Orbe-Austin continued. “Also seeing individuals with whom they can relate, such as celebrities and other individuals in their lives who they respect (e.g. family members, friends, religious figures) can also make it easier to explore mental healthcare.”
He also noted the medical community needs to do more to cater to African Americans.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 11% of African Americans are not covered by health insurance, compared with about 7% for non-Hispanic whites.
The APA also states physician-patient communication differs for African Americans and whites. One study found that physicians were 23% more verbally dominant, and engaged in 33% less patient-centered communication with African American patients than with white patients.
“Better training of mental health practitioners and general medical practitioners, with whom African Americans may engage with more frequently, to develop a more culturally competent understanding of mental health of African Americans can improve treatment,” he added.
Black mental health resources
Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective: “We are a collective of advocates, yoga teachers, artists, therapists, lawyers, religious leaders, teachers, psychologists and activists committed to the emotional/mental health and healing of Black communities.”
Black Men Heal: “To provide access to mental health treatment, psycho-education, and community resources to men of color.”
Black Mental Wellness:”The mission of Black Mental Wellness, Corp. is to provide access to evidence-based information and resources about mental health and behavioral health topics from a Black perspective, to highlight and increase the diversity of mental health professionals, and to decrease the mental health stigma in the Black community.”
Black Women’s Health Imperative: “We target the most pressing health issues that affect Black women and girls in the U.S. through investments in evidence based strategies, bold programs and advocacy outreach on health policies.”
Therapy for Black Girls: “Therapy for Black Girls is an online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls.”