By Niku Sedarat
As human beings, we embody various identities and group affiliations that intricately interweave to shape our individuality. Within the realm of behavioral health, the closely connected facets of mental health and race often go unnoticed, giving rise to a spectrum of challenges, disparities, and, conversely, opportunities for personal growth. It is crucial to illuminate this intersection and delve into its impacts, examining the racial dynamics that influence individuals of color and their mental health experiences.
A significant social factor affecting the Black community is the stigma surrounding mental health. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African American adults are 20% more likely to report serious emotional distress compared to their white counterparts. The prevalence of mental health challenges in the Black community is undeniable, stemming from social factors such as racism and historical trauma. However, due to the stigma associated with mental health in Black communities, two in three African Americans grappling with mental health challenges never receive the appropriate treatment.
Unfortunately, systematic barriers perpetuate these stigmas, exerting a detrimental impact on the emotional well-being of the Black community. Stigma has undeniably built up over time, grounded in the misconception that seeking mental health support is a sign of weakness. Professor Ruth White attributes this notion to the belief that the Black community, having endured substantial adversity, may not warrant attention or care for their mental health, seeing it as a minor issue in comparison to the adversities they have historically experienced. Even so, the remedy for mental health challenges within the black community is often the usage of religion and prayer over formal mental health treatment. Consequently, the stigma persists and intensifies, often overshadowing the importance of addressing mental health challenges with research-based psychological interventions.
The prominence of mental health stigma in the Black community is undeniable, yet it is not insurmountable. Resolving and dismantling this stigma requires a collective shift in cultural narratives, recognizing mental health as a critical aspect deserving of care, alongside a broader series of systemic changes. Media and news outlets, at times, contribute to perpetuating the stigma by characterizing people of color grappling with mental illness as "violent" or "dangerous" individuals. This further deepens the negative association with mental health in the Black community, fortifying the existing stigma, which further emphasizes the role of institutions in helping to reduce social and mental health stigmas within the Black community.
Overcoming mental health stigmas in the Black community necessitates a collective mindset shift and the dismantling of systemic barriers. We must encourage one another to seek support and advocate for culturally competent care, ensuring that individuals of color feel as though social factors, like stigma and racism, are accounted for, validated, and understood in the mental health care that they receive.
For those experiencing emotional challenges or supporting a loved one, do not hesitate to seek culturally competent resources tailored specifically for the Black community. Remember, you are not alone, and acknowledging and addressing mental health is a testament to strength, not weakness.