Health-Awareness Months Mind

May Health: Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health Awareness

Despite being known for our resilience in the face of adversity, Black Americans often bear the weight of unique mental health challenges. From historical traumas to systemic injustices, these issues remain deeply ingrained, often leading to reluctance in seeking treatment. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s important to recognize and discuss the complexities surrounding mental health issues affecting our community, explore why few of us seek treatment, and analyze actionable solutions.

The Uniqueness of Mental Health Issues Among Black Americans

Black Americans navigate a unique terrain of mental health challenges shaped by historical, socio-economic, and cultural factors. One prevalent issue is intergenerational trauma, rooted in the harrowing experiences of slavery, segregation, and institutional racism. These traumas reverberate through generations, manifesting in conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. Studies have shown that there is a distinct link between intergenerational trauma and depression with evidence that trauma can be passed between generations epigenetically, which means that trauma experienced by an ancestor might affect the way our genes are expressed.

The intersection of race and socio-economic status often exacerbates mental health disparities. Poverty, unemployment, and housing instability disproportionately affect Black communities, amplifying stressors and increasing susceptibility to conditions such as anxiety and substance abuse.

Our community also experiences a higher rate of microaggressions and racial discrimination represent persistent stressors that chip away at mental well-being. Constant exposure to discrimination, whether overt or subtle, contributes to feelings of alienation, anger, and psychological distress.

While many of us in the Black community are aware of mental health issues among ourselves, our family, and our community as a whole. However, there still exists a horrible stigma surrounding mental health. Historical mistrust of medical institutions, coupled with cultural norms valuing stoicism and resilience, often deter individuals from seeking help. And, even more recently, Black Americans received a biased test, thus delaying kidney transplants of thousands. This stigma and historical (and modern) mistreatment are blatant barriers for us to acknowledge and address mental health concerns. In turn, most of the our community are left silent, untreated, and suffering.

Why Black Americans Do Not Seek Treatment

Despite facing a number of mental health challenges, we frequently encounter obstacles in accessing and utilizing mental health services. One significant barrier is the scarcity of culturally competent care. Mental health professionals often lack cultural awareness and sensitivity, leading to misdiagnosis, inadequate treatment, and feelings of alienation among our community.

Financial constraints also become a problem. Lack of insurance coverage, coupled with limited access to affordable mental health services, hinders individuals from seeking the help they need. For example, the average per session, out-of-pocket cost for therapy averages $100-$200. Even more engrained in our psyche is a history mistrust of medical institutions, stemming from atrocities like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the aforementioned story of the biased kidney transplant test, fuels apprehension and reluctance to engage with mental health providers.

Finally, within our community we tend to take pride in self-reliance and struggle so much that we are expected to endure hardships and expected to endure them alone. Seeking help is often viewed as a sign of weakness, leading many to suffer in silence rather than seek support.

Are There Solutions?

As Mental Health Awareness Month unfolds, we must discuss and implement reasonable solutions aimed at dismantling barriers to mental health care within the Black community.

  1. Prioritize culturally competent care. Mental health professionals must undergo training to better understand the cultural nuances and unique challenges faced by Black Americans. Additionally, diversifying the mental health workforce to include more Black practitioners can foster trust and facilitate more meaningful therapeutic relationships.
  2. Address financial barriers. Mental health treatment comes at a price. Addressing financial barriers may be achieved through policy initiatives aimed at expanding insurance coverage for mental health services and increasing funding for community-based mental health programs serving Black communities. Additionally, offering sliding-scale fees and pro bono services can improve access for those facing financial hardship.
  3. Education and destigmatization. Community outreach programs and public awareness campaigns at community centers and even in conjunction with local churches can help dispel myths surrounding mental health and encourage open dialogue within the Black community. By normalizing conversations about mental health and emphasizing the importance of seeking help, we can chip away at the stigma and empower individuals to prioritize their well-being.

From historical traumas to present-day injustices, the burdens borne by Black communities are multifaceted and profound. As Mental Health Awareness Month unfolds, let us heed the call to break the silence surrounding mental health and work tirelessly to dismantle barriers to care. By prioritizing culturally competent services, addressing financial disparities, and fostering open dialogue, we can pave the way towards mental health equity for all.

Further Reading:

  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness – Black/African American Mental Health
  2. American Psychological Association – Mental Health Disparities: Diverse Populations
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – Black/African American
  4. National Institute of Mental Health – Minority Mental Health
  5. The Steve Fund – Supporting the Mental Health and Emotional Well-being of Students of Color

About the author

Stephen Earley Jordan II

Stephen Earley Jordan is the lead writer, editor and founder of Elevate Black Health. He has 25+ years in the public health and pharmaceutical marketing industry. He has worked on various public health campaigns for various organizations, including New York City Department of Health. Campaigns include: smoking cessation, healthy children, trans fat, HIV/AIDS, Flu Vaccines, Safe homes, and more. Jordan has worked with multicultural divisions to ensure all literature was translated into six additional languages for the specific targeted demographics. Jordan has also spent time in the pharmaceutical marketing industry, and worked on various marketing campaigns for oncology, rheumatoid arthritis, probiotics, medical devices, facial fillers, thyroid- and dry-eye diseases, and numerous rare diseases. He has assisted in the production of print and digital pieces alike.

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