As the topic of mental health takes the spotlight in mainstream media, there is a specific community left out of the conversation. As more Americans open up about their mental health struggles and mental health care is becoming more accessible and popular, the African-American community may be getting left behind. To understand the future of mental health in the black community, we must dive into the history of trauma and the current state of mental health resources in the community.
The effects of trauma in the black community can be traced back from slavery to police brutality today. The effects of systemic racism can be observed in every aspect of American life, even in the emotional and mental aspects of Black Americans’ lives. While Black Americans face mental health issues, they largely go untreated. Specifically, only one in three African-Americans that are experiencing mental health issues will get proper treatment. This is mainly due to the overall inaccessibility of mental healthcare for the black community. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 10.4% of African-Americans are uninsured for health care, including mental healthcare. Leaving a large amount of the Black community without the economic resources to get proper mental healthcare and treat mental health issues effectively.
Another issue that fuels the mental health crisis in the black community is the stigma within the community. But to understand the stigma in the Black community, we must understand the history and treatment of the African-American community in the medical field. Starting from slavery, many black people were involuntarily used to advance the study of medicine, furthering the dehumanization of the black community and distrust of the medical field. Another example could be the Tuskegee Experiment. From 1932 to 1972, the United States Public Health Service conducted a study to research Syphilis by withholding syphilis treatment, despite promising to provide treatment, from hundreds of black men with the disease. Even to this day, black patients report maltreatment from medical professionals at a higher rate than white patients. The culture and history of mistreatment have created not only distrust of the medical field but a stigma around health in general within the black community.
Specifically, when it comes to mental health and the stigma surrounding the topic is unique. With the general distrust of the medical field, some may have negative views on mental health issues as a whole. The role of religion and culture may even shape how some individuals see those with mental health issues and seek professional help.
Additionally, the mental health issues of black people have historically been minimized and criminalized throughout the past decades. Often when black Americans display signs and symptoms of mental distress, they are met with carceral punishment rather than adequate treatment. The over-policing and mistreatment of black people with mental disorders and issues have only exacerbated the stigma within the community. Along with a disturbing amount of misdiagnoses regarding black patients with mental health issues, specifically with psychotic and mood disorders.
The world and the black community have not taken black mental health seriously, it remains a problem and a threat to the well-being of black people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports that black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than their white counterparts. Additionally, they reported that black adults are more likely to feel hopelessness and sadness than white adults. With the recent tragedies of famous dancer Stephen “tWitch” Boss and former Miss USA, Chelsea Christ, it is evident that mental health struggles do not discriminate.
With the alarming statistics on black people and mental health, there’s much work to be done to break the stigma and increase access to mental healthcare. As a community, we can have more open conversations about how we are feeling, and what we are facing, and release the shame of facing mental health struggles to deconstruct the mental health stigma. As we uncover and heal from generational trauma, we can truly transform the black community and its relationship with mental health. On a policy front, we must advocate for investment in mental health research and treatment specifically for the African American community. Increase healthcare coverage for black and brown communities that include mental healthcare services.
By starting the conversation and increasing mental healthcare access, we can save and transform lives.