Black mental health matters

Mykel Hilliard, Editor-in-Chief

According to a recent study conducted by Medical News Today, around one-third of COVID-19 survivors have been diagnosed with neurological or mental health conditions within six months of contracting the virus. According to the CDC some communities from ethnic and minority groups face unequal treatment in the healthcare industry making them more vulnerable to catching the virus. With this in mind, we must continue to be more open to speaking about mental health issues in the Black community. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience mental health problems than any other group yet find themselves encountering discrimination and inadequate treatment from health care professionals. Black mental health matters and should be at the forefront of our conversations regarding equality for the Black community.  

THE STATISTICS

Black Americans are more likely to report feelings of emotional distress than their white counterparts according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. 

According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health Survey, only one in three African Americans who need mental health care services receive it. In 2018, 9% of Black Americans received mental health care services compared to 18.6% of white Americans according to WebMD

Even when seeking treatment from mental healthcare professionals, Black people find themselves facing misdiagnosis, underdiagnosis and incompetent care. For decades Black people have been misdiagnosed and overdiagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder, according to Psychiatry Online

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, Black teenagers are 50% more likely than their white peers to show signs of bulimia but are diagnosed less, even when showing identical symptoms. 

Black mothers find themselves at a greater risk for postpartum depression, but are less likely to receive adequate treatment. 

Socioeconomic factors, such as access to health care, are also a major barrier for Black people, making it harder for them to seek treatment. In 2017, 10.6% of Black Americans were uninsured compared with 5.9% of non-Hispanic whites.

Even when financially stable and insured, Black Americans Americans are still less likely to be given antidepressant therapy by mental health care professionals according to the American Psychiatric Association

THE BLACK COMMUNITY AND MENTAL HEALTH

The negative stigma attached to seeking help for mental health conditions is still prevalent in society and often deters Black people from seeking treatment. A study done by the National Alliance on Mental Health showed 63% of Black Americans believe having a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness. 

According to Dallas College Brookhaven Campus psychology professor La’Kendra Higgs, many people within the Black community do not believe certain diagnoses and treatments are representative of their beliefs. Higgs said the Black community typically looks at using mental health treatments as forcing themselves to suffering or weakness. 

For some in the Black community, visiting a counselor or psychiatrist is compared to telling a stranger your business. However, mental healthcare professionals are licensed providers who go through years of school and training, making them more knowledgeable about the nuances of mental illness. 

Churches or other religious institutions often deter Black people from seeking treatment as they play an important role as a meeting place and source of strength for the Black community. 

 “I’ve often heard older Black men and women attribute issues of depression and anxiety to ‘devices or tricks of the devil’ that are to be healed through prayer and other methods of faith, thereby suggesting that psychotherapy and other treatments are unnecessary and represent an absence of faith,” Higgs said. 

Faith and religious practices can be valuable in combating mental health issues, however, an individual should use those practices in conjunction with other treatments to address their mental health if necessary. 

FAMILY TIES WITH MENTAL HEALTH 

Looking back at my childhood, I can correlate many of my family members’ behaviors to poor mental health practices. As a result of not receiving proper care, I have seen family members turn to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms, resulting in addiction and a broken family dynamic. 

Sadly, I have seen these toxic behavior patterns passed down from generation to generation. I fear the cycle will continue if we do not get to the root of the problem, not only in my family, but the Black community as a whole. 

In my immediate household, the term mental health was never used. I didn’t become familiar with this term until my teenage years, but had little understanding of what it meant. For years I wrestled with the idea of seeing a therapist because of the negative stigma. As I began to take on more responsibility, my physical and mental health began to deteriorate. I ultimately decided to seek psychotherapy and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Taking the steps to seek therapy changed the trajectory of my life and gave me the tools to regulate my anxiety and work through past trauma. 

I assume if many of my family members were encouraged to seek treatment or received greater support they would be leading different lives now. Unfortunately, many of them are in the same place, victims of their community and circumstance.  

MOVING FORWARD

We need to be more vigorous in addressing the issue of Black mental health. While a number of our mental health issues stem from outside factors, I believe we can work together as a community to bring more awareness to Black mental health. 

This starts with destigmatizing the negative perception around seeking help. We also need to continue to monitor mental health care professionals and hold them accountable when they misdiagnose or under-diagnose Black patients. Black lives matter. Black mental health matters. And our community deserves better.