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Issue 17 Out Now

The Stigma of Mental Health Awareness and How it Affects the Black Community

Photo by Finn on Unsplash

Growing up, I was told that I was too sensitive, too emotional. I was encouraged to “toughen up” and “don’t always say how you feel.” Once I grew older and started understanding mental health, I knew that it was okay to be a sensitive person who feels just a little more.

This mentality of “toughening up” does not always work when it comes to mental stability, which only causes a bigger reluctance to seek help when we may need it.

Many in the Black community struggle with seeking help and look more to persevere through the struggles and pain. According to The National Council for Behavioral Health, a lot of this mindset comes from the ancestors before them.

For example, enslavement and segregation towards an entire race are horrific, but many had to persevere through the pain. They simply had no choice.

Looking back at that, some of the Black community believe they would be doing a disservice if there was a big “fuss” made about something small like “sadness” or “stress,” compared to the obstacles their ancestors faced and still worked through.

The problem lies in the lack of understanding of mental illnesses. Mental health is not just about feeling sad, stressed out, or anxious about a big test. It is incredibly more than that.

Mental illness is and should be considered an “illness” just as diabetes or high blood pressure, according to The National Council for Behavioral Health.

On the other side, the stigma surrounding mental health in Black communities may rely on the mistrust in healthcare. Healthcare is one of the leading attributes of systemic racism. A lot of this is based on healthcare providers not listening to the needs of Black people. Often, their concerns are overlooked and ignored, which can lead to completely preventative injury or death in some cases.

Many of the mental health issues that arise within the Black community are due to the injustices that occur daily. As a result of systemic racism, one in three Black adults who struggle with mental illnesses receive appropriate treatment, according to The American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Besides, 20 % percent of Black adults are more likely to report urgent psychological distress than their white counterparts, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Minority Health.

University of Southern California Clinical Associate Professor Ruth White explained why many in the Black community refrain from seeking help for mental illness due to their worries.

“Much of the pushback against seeking treatment stems from ideas along the lines of; we have survived so much adversity and now someone is going to say there’s something wrong with us,” said White in a comment to USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

However, White also explained that the pushback to mental health awareness stems from religious affiliations. Many in the Black community learn to utilized prayer and faith as a “salve’ for mental health issues, according to USC.

The need to make a shift is apparent within the Black community. Many of these people are suffering in silence and putting a brave face on for the public. It is incredibly disheartening to understand the amount of public scrutiny the Black community has endured for centuries, physically and mentally affecting them.

Rosie White, along with other clinical analysts, encourage shaping this country’s cultural narrative. This circles back to appropriate care and treatment for marginalized groups.

How do we expect to curb this stigma if we cannot focus on appropriate healthcare and support?

Not everyone can afford the cost and access to therapy, which particularly affects the Black community.

Policies need to be changed and reviewed to account for appropriate care. It is and will always be an important role in destigmatizing mental health awareness amongst the Black community.


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