Men’s Health Mind

Black Men and Therapy: Do we need it and why don’t we go?

Written by Anthony Emecheta

Nearly two decades ago, the National Institute of Mental Health launched its landmark Real Men Real Depression campaign to sensitize Black communities on the need to get mental health treatment. Nevertheless, Black men continue to have the highest mortality rates compared to other racial groups.

Between 1991 and 2017, the Maryland government reported a 73% rise in suicide rate among Black adolescents. It went further to highlight that Black males are twice as likely to die by suicide compared to White youths. In 2014, 80% of suicide deaths in the Black community in the United States were men. What was even more fascinating was that the report pointed out that Black men don’t recognize depression or trauma as an issue.

The popular opinion is that Black men don’t do therapy. However, what is often not discussed is the reason why Black men are less likely to seek therapy. The answer is multifaceted with cultural and social undertone.

Reasons why Black men are less likely to seek therapy

Several socio-cultural factors like racism, mistrust, misdiagnosis, economic disparity, and clinician bias are some of the reasons why Black men are less likely to seek therapy. You will discover that these issues should not be viewed in isolation because one often flows into the other.

While some of the issues holding Black men back from seeking help are easy to fix, others are not. Perhaps, the first step to helping Black men open up about their mental health struggles is understanding the reasons holding them back in the first place.

Cultural belief

Black men are trained to be tough. Therefore, depression and other mental health issues are often seen as a sign of weakness—and most Black men will cringe from deflated ego at the mention of the word “therapy”. In fact, in some Black communities, there is a stigma about mental health. Any mention of depression or anxiety is either downplayed or equated to lunacy. This makes it harder for Black men raised with such cultural beliefs to openly voice their mental health struggles.

The fewness of Black male therapists is not making it easier either. A White therapist without a clue to this cultural background will find it more difficult to help their Black patients—even if they muster the courage to show up for a therapy session.

The most recent data from the American Psychological Association shows that only about 5% of psychologists in the country are Black. According to Paul Allen of the Hechinger Report, “We need to build a world where accessing a Black therapist is as natural as going to the gym”.

Racism

Even when Black men feel inclined to talk to someone about their silent struggles, the last person they want to talk to is a White therapist. They feel they will either not be understood or will be judged. Most will prefer to talk to a Black mental health professional.

Several studies over the last four decades have highlighted people’s desire to find therapists who share their racial or demographic background. In 1985, two researchers Tien and Johnson interviewed 30 Black clients from a community mental health center in Los Angeles City to determine their preference.

Their result showed that 60% of the respondents preferred Black therapists. However, since there are not many Black therapists, some Black men who might have sought help will prefer to fight their internal battles alone. That is why discussions, like this one, are important because they can spur more Black men to become therapists.

Economic disparity

Since mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are usually not considered serious health challenges, spending to get treated often feels like a luxury. At other times Black men who want to seek therapy simply don’t have the money to do so.

According to a 2018 US Census Data, the Black community had the highest poverty rate among non-native Americans. Poverty among Black communities is often encouraged by the patterns of inequity in employment and income. In fact, virtually every Black nation on earth is considered a third-world nation. A 2021 data from Brookings shows that Black men have the highest unemployment rate in the US.

The combination of poverty and the lack of social safety net forces Black men to be frugal with their spending and spend on only what they consider important—and booking a therapy session may never make that list due to cultural beliefs.

The way forward

The stigma around therapy needs to be unbundled by presenting it as not just a mental health thing but as a necessity and part of overall wellness. We need more Black therapists and Black people who will openly talk about mental health like rap legend Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels.

McDaniels, of the legendary rap group Run DMC, was bullied as a child to the point of becoming suicidal. Now he uses one of the most powerful tools—music—to create awareness on mental health. When the discussion on mental health is normalized, it will help to erase the stigma associated with seeking therapy—and set better examples for future generations.

While awareness can help to eliminate the stigma around therapy, it would only solve one-half of the problem. The other half has to do with addressing the issues that pressure Black men into developing mental health crises in the first place like systemic poverty, racism, police brutality, and so on. This is where policymakers come in. A holistic solution will only come from merging the two.

For more reading:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4406484/

https://health.maryland.gov/bha/suicideprevention/Documents/Session%201A%20-%20BLACK%20BOYS,%20BLACK%20MEN,%20AND%20SUICIDE.pdf

https://www.apa.org/workforce/data-tools/demographics

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/4077425/

https://www.povertyusa.org/facts

https://sports.yahoo.com/darryl-dmc-mc-daniels-talks-mental-health-awareness-and-helping-troubled-kids-if-you-remove-guilt-and-shame-you-remove-the-pain-234610301.html

About the author

Anthony Emecheta

Anthony Emecheta holds a master’s degree in microbiology. He is a passionate educator and particularly an advocate of racial equality. He strongly believes the world will be a better place if we all see ourselves as humans first before anything else.

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