Mental Health in the African American Community

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress.

Why is this the case you ask? Unfortunately a large majority of the African American Community has little to no information about what mental health issues are and how to seek help with those issues. The lack of information then leads to the misunderstanding that having a mental health issue makes you weak. Due to this lack of information more often than not members of the African American Community have trouble recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. This will then lead to underestimating the effects and impacts that mental health has on your day to day life.
“Social trauma shapes mental health in the Black Community” Dr. Michael Lindsey – School of Social Work at NYU

According to the American Psychological Association – African American youth who are exposed to violence are at a greater risk for PTSD by over 25%. This community is also more likely to be exposed to factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as homelessness and exposure to violence. African Americans, like many minority communities, are also more likely to experience socioeconomic disparities such as exclusion from health, educational, social and economic resources. Due to the lack of economic resources, lack of information, and other unmet needs for mental health – African Americans experience more severe mental health conditions, “… nearly twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.” (Snowden, 2001).Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among African Americans aged 15-24.

Historically, African Americans have been and continue to be negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the health care system. Misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and lack of cultural competence by health professionals cause distrust and prevent many African Americans from seeking or staying in treatment.  (NAMI)

What can you do to help your community?

Start the conversation about mental health with your peers, friends and family. There could be some hesitation at first, but get creative on how to bring up mental health. We can use our voices and services in our community to reduce stigma in our culture and community.

Be compassionate. If you see that someone you know may be struggling, ask them how they are doing and actively listen to them. If they open up about their struggles acknowledge and validate their emotions and what they may be going through. Listening to someone, giving them support and compassion builds more trust and communication in that relationship.

Your words matter, do not be judgmental. It is important to not be judgmental and refrain from language that will have a negative effect on others. You may not even realize that your words may have a negative effects refrain from comments such as – “You are strong – you don’t need a therapist” and “We made it through slavery – we can deal with our own mental health”  These comments may prevent those in your community from seeking help and opening up. 

Embrace your voice. In the black community more people are talking about their struggles publicly, but they need to be sharing experiences. Using human connection and connectivity to address issues from a good place you will become more powerful and create more momentum to be the best you can be. As Dr. Martin Luther Kings said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” Be that light in your community and strive for better mental health.

By: Elisa Mari

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