Black Communities and Mental Health

Nearly 46 million people identify themselves as Black or African American in the U.S. From trailblazers like George Washington Carver and Dorothy Height to present day role models Anita Hill and Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Black community has put enormous effort into the ongoing fight for social, racial, and economic justice.

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Despite these contributions, true social justice for the Black community will not be achieved until mental health disparities are addressed. Mental health is an essential part of overall physical health and life satisfaction.

Anxiety and depression have become the most common mental health concerns among the Black community. Psychological difficulties are more prevalent due to a lack of culturally appropriate and responsive mental health care, prejudice and racism inherent in their daily environments, and historical trauma that medical professionals have perpetrated on Black people. Moreover, given that the Black community exists at the intersection of racism, classism, and health inequity, their mental health needs are often exacerbated and unfulfilled. Issues related to economic insecurity and the associated experiences, such as violence and criminal injustice, further serve to escalate the mental health disparities among the Black population.

Research suggests that the Black community is 20% more likely to suffer from serious mental health problems, such as Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Black emerging adults ranging from 18 to 25 years old are also more likely than White emerging adults and older Black adults to experience mental health issues and use mental health services less often. Although efforts have been made to reduce disparities in racial and class areas in the U.S., inequalities are still increasing.

Stigma and Barriers in Black Communities

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Negative attitudes and beliefs towards people who live with mental health conditions is pervasive within the U.S. and can be particularly strong within the Black community. There is often difficulty acknowledging psychological difficulties, but useful strategies including religious coping and methods such as pastoral guidance and prayer often are the most preferred coping mechanisms. These ideas often lead Black communities to believe that a mental health condition is a personal weakness, running counter to the survivalist mentality born from systemic oppression and chronic racism. As a result, Black folks may experience shame about having a mental illness and worry that they may be discriminated against due to their condition.

There is also a need to improve cultural awareness and corresponding responsiveness in the health care and mental health field. Historically, Black people have been negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the health care system in the U.S. Unfortunately, many Black people still have these negative experiences when they attempt to seek treatment. Research has found that the lack of cultural responsiveness from the therapist, cultural mistrust, and potential negative views from the therapist associated with stigma impact the provision of mental health services in the Black community.

Another barrier to treatment would be lack of Black therapists. Less than two percent of American Psychological Association members are Black or African American. Because of the history of psychotherapy, as well as the unique challenges faced by Black community members, Black patients may prefer seeing Black therapists even though a shared ethnicity does not necessarily guarantee the best therapeutic relationship.

Importance of Culturally Responsive Care

Culturally responsive care is about creating and providing a culturally safe environment for others. By being culturally responsive, you can meet the social and cultural needs of people with diverse backgrounds. When it comes to learning about other cultures, you first have to be aware of your own beliefs, biases, values, and cultural practices to be more open to learning about others and their culture. As you learn about other cultures, you must listen, be open, and show respect. Culturally responsive care is important, especially in healthcare, because it helps the caregiver give the best possible service to their patient. Here are some tips to help with culturally responsive care: 

  1. Respect individual experiences. 
  2. Avoid making assumptions. 
  3. Practice active listening. 
  4. Build trust and rapport. 
  5. Pay attention to your body language.
  6. Work with community organizations.

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Black Joy and Mental Health

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When you think of joy, you think of happiness which is connected to a sense of well-being and good mental health. Black joy refers to things that inspire, support, and uplift the Black culture. However, Black people have had their joy taken for many years and been denied love, peace, rest, and excitement due to historical and intergenerational trauma and oppression. Psychologist Dr. Thema Bryant discusses this in her most recent Ted Talk and suggests that Black joy is key to healing from collective trauma and traumatic stress and can be done through joyous moments such as music, art, stories, and more.

Celebrate and encourage Black joy! Below are three artists who explain and visualize what Black joy means to them:

Octavia Ink (printmaker, illustrator, and graphic designer) describes Black joy as radical and as freedom, which leads to liberation and true self-expression. Finding one’s identity comes when one is given the knowledge to access it without any boundaries.

Eliana Rodgers  (illustrator and graphic designer) focuses on the act of freedom, such as the freedom to laugh, dance, create, and thrive in a world without policies and social structures. This type of freedom brings joy which causes happiness to flow from head to toe.

Thaddeus Coates (artist and illustrator) sees Black joy as freeing ourselves from social norms and stereotypes about Blackness.

Several ways to improve your mental and physical health and express Black joy can be done by:

  1. Self-Care
  2. Invest in yourself and your community
  3. Support Black-owned businesses
  4. Learn about Black leaders and Black History
  5. Embrace your full self
  6. Influence others to do the same

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Visit our Displays!

Our Black History Month Display in Collier Library is featuring black mental health professionals and resources for Black communities. 

The second display will be in the Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion and Center for Women’s Studies on the 1st Floor of Rice Hall featuring Black icons of the UNA community.