A study by Sunshine Behavioral Health found that only a third of adult Black Americans who need mental health care actually receive it. To aggravate the problem, there is a hesitation within the community to seek help as well.
Many reasons exist for Black apprehension in this regard. The study cited systemic racism as a prime cause, specifically a phenomenon called “post-traumatic slave syndrome” (PTSS). “Slaves weren’t considered human, it was thought they couldn’t experience mental illness. Because of PTSS, descendants who have not directly experienced such discrimination may still feel the effects,” said the study.
Financially, the odds are stacked against Black Americans too. Generational poverty is a trauma that affects many in the community, and it prevents them from accessing basic amenities like health care. In 2018, one analysis found that 11.5% of Black adult Americans had no health insurance despite the Affordable Care Act. That makes affording mental health services difficult.
The behavioral health group also cited religious institutions as a contributor to hesitation. “Black Americans who are members of a church or similar organization do have a lower suicide risk. Unfortunately, priests and ministers aren’t trained to treat or recognize mental illnesses by themselves. Professional help may still be needed,” it said.
Familial pressure and the fear of what others in the community think of mental health problems act as builders of stigma when it comes to reaching out for help. The study mentioned that mental illness as a sign of weakness was a common perception. In fact, a study conducted by the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that 63% of Black Americans believed that. Another assumption is that seeking therapy will lead to the patient blaming their family for how they were raised. “Many people still think the therapist’s go-to is to blame problems on their clients’ mothers and fathers. Talking to a therapist is airing dirty laundry in public. Such problems should be addressed by the family or larger community, not strangers. Except they often don’t,” said the study.
Sunshine Behavioral Health went on to list ways to remove the stigma:
- One major way to remove the stigma and racial barriers is to have more Black and culturally diverse physicians and psychotherapists. “Not to meet affirmative action quotas, but because their existence improves trust and care,” it said. This is called culturally competent care.
- Teaching people that the brain is like any other part of the body: sometimes it needs to be examined by a physician.
- Replacing the idea that mental illness is a weakness with the idea that it takes strength to acknowledge a problem and to try to fix it.
- Explaining how taking prescribed medication isn’t like drug abuse. Sometimes medications can restore normalcy in conjunction with therapies.
It provides a primer for Black Mental Health resources like the AAKOMA Project, Black Men Heal and Ethel’s Club. The full resource list can be accessed here.