“Bruh, I ain’t crazy! I don’t need a Therapist or Psychiatrist!”

 Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Taking an active roll in managing your mental health (i.e.: seeing a mental health professional – Therapist, Psychologist, Psychiatrist), does not mean you’re crazy. In fact it’s a very SANE thing to do!

 Mental health conditions occur in Black and African American (B/AA) people in America at about the same or less frequency than in White Americans. However, being Black in America has and continues to be characterized by trauma and violence more often than for their White counterparts and impacts emotional and mental health of both youth and adults. In 2018, for the first time in the history of such research, the rate of suicides for Black children between the ages of five and 12 has exceeded that of white children, and more than a third of elementary school-aged suicides involved Black children.Historical dehumanization, oppression, and violence cultivates a uniquely mistrustful and less affluent community experience, characterized by a myriad of disparities including inadequate access to and delivery of care in the health system

 Fayetteville State University sociology professor Stacey Blount, “Some scholars have said that because we have to live with the stigma of our skin tone, self-identification as Black or African-American … that it’s possible, historically, that Black people have tried to minimize stigma,” she said. “Therefore, mental health is perceived as a stigma for some sectors of society. It’s just one thing that we have not embraced as much. “you don’t need to go see a psychiatrist or psychologist or psychotherapist or counselor because you got Jesus, you can pray your way through,” may have been another obstacle preventing some in the Black community from seeking help, ” In research studies, Black people have indicated that mild depression or anxiety would be viewed as “crazy” in their social circles. Many of those interviewed also believe that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among family. “Therapy is not for Black people.” Similarly, many have responded to suggestions from loved ones to seek professional aid with, “I’m not crazy,” “I’m not depressed,” “I’ll just pray about it,” or, perhaps the most popular answer, “I can’t afford it.” Because less than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members are Black, some members of the Black community worry that non-Black mental health practitioners are not culturally competent enough to treat their specific issues.

 Within the Black community, addressing mental health has also been difficult because some don’t want to appear weak, Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant’s book “Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman” which explores how Black women also can’t be seen as weak. “(In the book) she talks about the fact that this ‘Superwoman syndrome’ in Black women is a myth,” Blount said. “She talks about … chronic illnesses that we have that are manifestations of stress and distress.” Examples of celebrities addressing mental health and the ‘Superwoman syndrome’ stereotype include Simone Biles, who publicly announced she as withdrawing from team finals at the 2021 Olympics to focus on her mental health and Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open to preserve her mental health.

It is understandable that Black people distrust the medical and mental health communities, given the challenges they face in seeking care today and considering that both fields have been weaponized against Black people for almost the entirety of American history. 

 Well what can you do to help promote mental health in your community? Just being present enough to sit there, even if you just let them vent and just recognize a human being at the end of the day. They still have feelings and don’t be dismissive or judgmental just because they’re going through something. Encourage others to go to professionals for help. Seek some yourself. Read more about it.

To reiterate, if you are having mental health issues, you are not “crazy.” What you are experiencing is real. You may be depressed or anxious, and you may lack the language to describe what you’re feeling.But it is REAL! Prayer can help–studies have shown the many benefits that religion and spirituality can have for psychological fortitude and emotional well-being; but it’s also okay to talk to a mental health professional. It is normal to occasionally feel unhappy or dissatisfied with life, especially surrounding stressful events, but if  dissatisfaction and unhappiness become your norm for weeks, months, or years, you may benefit from speaking  with a mental health professional. Keep in mind that the Black community has a long history of social change and that prioritizing mental health is not a sign of weakness, but an act of strength. It ain’t crazy to see a Mental Health Specialist, its Crazy not to!

African American Mental Health Studies:

 Mental health America statistics – https://www.mhanational.org/issues/black-and-african-american-communities-and-mental-health

 Prevalence

  • Black and African American people living below poverty are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress than those living over 2x the poverty level.
  • Adult Blacks and African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult whites.
  • Blacks and African Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide at all ages. However, Black and African American teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than White teenagers (9.8 percent v. 6.1 percent).

According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health :

  • Sixteen percent (4.8 million) of Black and African American people reported having a mental illness, and 22.4 percent of those (1.1 million people) reported a serious mental illness over the past year.
  • Serious mental illness (SMI) rose among all ages of Black and African American people between 2008 and 2018.
  • Despite rates being less than the overall U.S. population, major depressive episodes increased from 9 percent-10.3 percent in Black and African American youth ages 12-17, 6.1 percent to 9.4 percent in young adults 18-25, and 5.7 percent to 6.3 percent in the 26-49 age range between 2015 and 2018.
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts are also rising among Black and African American young adults. While still lower than the overall U.S. population aged 18-25, 9.5 percent (439,000) of Black and African American 18-25-year-olds had serious thoughts of suicide in 2018, compared to 6 percent (277,000) in 2008. 3.6 percent (166,000) made a plan in 2018, compared to 2.1 percent (96,000) in 2008, and 2.4 percent (111,000) made an attempt in 2018, compared to 1.5 percent (70,000) in 2008.
  • Binge drinking, smoking (cigarettes and marijuana), illicit drug use and prescription pain reliever misuse are more frequent among Black and African American adults with mental illnesses.

Attitudes

According to a study conducted by Ward, Wiltshire, Detry, and Brown in 2013 :

  • Black and African American hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors. The participants in this study were not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, but they were somewhat open to seek mental health services.
  • Thirty percent of participants reported having a mental illness or receiving treatment for a mental illness
  • Black and African American men are particularly concerned about stigma.
  • Cohort effects, exposure to mental illness, and increased knowledge of mental illness are factors that could potentially change beliefs about symptoms of mental illness.
  • Participants appeared apprehensive about seeking professional help for mental health issues, which is consistent with previous research. However, participants were willing to seek out some form of help.

Treatment Issues

  • Black and African American people are more often diagnosed with schizophrenia and less often diagnosed with mood disorders compared to white people with the same symptoms. Additionally, they are offered medication or therapy at the lower rates than the general population.
  • Black and African American people are over-represented in our jails and prisons. Black and African American people make up 13 percent of the general U.S. population, but nearly 40 percent of the prison population. In 2016, the imprisonment rate for Black and African American men (2,417 per 100,000 Black male residents) was more than 6 times greater than that for white men (401 per 100,000 white male residents) and the imprisonment rate for Black and African American women (97 per 100,000 Black and African American female residents) was almost double that for white women (49 per 100,000 white female residents).  Black and African American people with mental health conditions, specifically those involving psychosis, are more likely to be in jail or prison than people of other races.
  • Because less than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members are Black or African American, some may worry that mental health care practitioners are not culturally competent enough to treat their specific issues.
  • Stigma and judgment prevent Black and African American people from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses. Research indicates that Blacks and African Americans believe that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles. Furthermore, many believe that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among family.

Access/Insurance

Disparities in access to care and treatment for Black and African American people have also persisted over time.

  • While the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has helped to close the gap in uninsured individuals, 11.5 percent of Black and African Americans, versus 7.5 percent of white Americans were still uninsured in 2018.
  • In 2018, 58.2 percent of Black and African American young adults 18-25 and 50.1 percent of adults 26-49 with serious mental illness did NOT receive treatment.
  • Nearly 90 percent of Black and African American people over the age of 12 with a substance use disorder did NOT receive treatment.
  • In 2016, 12.3 percent of Black and African American adults who had a doctor’s office or clinic visit over the past year had difficulty getting needed care, tests or treatment compared to 6.8 percent of white adults.

Fact Sheets

Bipolar Disorder and African Americans

Clinical Depression and African Americans

Mental Health Resources For Black And African American Communities

  • Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM): BEAM is a training, movement building and grant making organization dedicated to the healing, wellness, and liberation of Black communities. BEAM envisions a world where there are no barriers to Black Healing. 
    • Toolkits & Education: graphics on accountability, self-control, and emotional awareness; journal prompts; articles on Black mental health
    • Videos: trainings and webinars, recorded and available for free
  • The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation: changing the perception of mental illness in the African-American community by encouraging people to get the help they need; focuses on stigma/self-stigma reduction and building trust between Black people and the mental health field.
    • Resource Guide: directory of mental health providers and programs that serve the Black community; includes therapists, support groups, etc, but also digital content, faith-based programs, educational programs, etc
  • Therapy for Black Girls: online space encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls; referral tool to find a therapist in your area
    • Therapist Directory: find trusted therapists that can help you navigate being a strong, Black woman; can search for in-office therapist by your location or virtual therapist.
  • The Loveland Foundation: financial assistance to Black women & girls seeking therapy
  • Therapy for Black Men: primarily a therapist directory for Black men seeking therapy; includes some resources and stories.
  • Dr. Ebony’s My Therapy Cards: self-exploration card deck created by a Black female psychologist for other women of color; created with the intention of helping other women of color grow and elevate in the areas of emotional and mental health.
  • Innopsych: InnoPsych’s mission is to bring healing to communities of color by changing the face and feel of therapy. They strive to make therapists of color more visible in the community by creating a path to wellness-themed business ownership; to make it faster (and easier) for people of color to match with a therapist of color; and to create a major shift in how communities of color (or POCs) view therapy.
  • Safe Black Space: Safe Black Space is the umbrella under which various services are offered to address people of African ancestry’s individual and community reactions to cultural and racial trauma.

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