Black Mental Health Should Matter To Us, Too
Updated: Apr 6, 2021
It is no surprise that mental health is already a taboo subject in our society. Even though Americans, particularly Gen-Z and Millennials, have become more open about mental health, certain communities have fallen behind in the normalization of mental health treatment, especially the black community.
We all share the experience of feeling ridiculed by our parents and even our peers for wanting or receiving help, and this stigma goes so much deeper than the memes we see about it on Twitter. Even though African Americans are more likely to report persistent symptoms of mental distress compared to white Americans, only one in three African American adults receive treatment, according to the US Department of Services Office of Minority Health. These trends are even more worrisome when it comes to acts of suicide, especially amongst African American youth.
In the same study done by the US Department of Services Office of Minority Health, in 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death in African Americans ages 15 to 24, and African American teenage girls in the 9-12 grade were 70% more likely to attempt suicide the same year in comparison to white teenage girls in the same grade bracket. These numbers truly reflect how deeply rooted mental illness has become amongst members of our community, though we are still less likely to receive the help we need.
The negative attitudes towards seeking treatment in our community are a result of socioeconomic barriers, healthcare inequality, and most importantly, the overarching stigma surrounding mental health treatment in the African American community.
According to a study done by the US National Library of Medicine, 63% of African Americans believe that suffering from a mental illness is a sign of weakness, and according to Ruth White, the Clinical Associate Professor from the University Of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, “Much of the pushback against seeking treatment stems from the ideas along the lines of: We have survived so much adversity and now someone is going to say that there is something wrong with us.”
This mentality regarding African American health among members of our own community has aggravated the issues we already face surrounding receiving the care many of us desperately need, however in a race conscious society, we refuse to be seen as having another deficit. This negative outlook has impacted how we view not only ourselves, but also the members of our own community. So, how can we change this?
We already have many barriers to overcome as African Americans, and the shame surrounding our health among members of our very own community has made it even harder for us to overcome our own personal battles. In fighting to end the mental health stigma in our community, we must address our own personal thinking surrounding those suffering with their mental health. How do we treat our neighbors who are currently suffering? What is our own internalized bias that we might possess in regards to this topic?
After our own personal attitudes have been assessed, we must normalize having these tough conversations about it to others in our community, and calling out those in our community who speak negatively of those who need treatment and support. Finally, the best way that we can change our views on mental health is by shifting media narratives in a way that proves that people with mental health issues can receive the help that they need and can live fulfilling lives.
When we see black mental health in the media (if we ever see it at all), it is usually filled with negative stereotypes that reinforce the destructive mindsets many of us have already internalized with regards to receiving treatment. Black people with mental health issues are seen as gloomy, extremely violent, and unsuccessful individuals who never receive the support they need by their community. They are often shut down by those around them, and never become truly well. If we want our community to normalize seeking treatment, we must fight to flip the script about this subject in the media.
As the saying goes, healing starts from within. In our fight to show that our lives matter in our country, we must also keep in mind that our lives and our well being should matter in our community, too. Let this be the last generation to have our struggles be brushed aside as “white people problems.” Let this be the last generation to end our lives because the people we should rely on the most have instead made us feel unworthy of help. Let it be known to everyone in our community that Black mental health should matter to us, too.