13.2 % of the U.S. population, that’s about 45.7 million people, identify themselves as Black or African American, according to 2014 U.S. Census Bureau numbers. Socioeconomic status is linked to mental health: People who are impoverished, homeless, incarcerated or have substance abuse problems are at higher risk for poor mental health. Despite progress made over the years, racism continues to have an impact on the mental health of African Americans. According to the US HHS Office of Minority Health : African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites. African Americans living below poverty are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty. African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites. African Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, Black/African Americans teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers (8.3 percent v. 6.2 percent). African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
We have all of these facts yet mental health is such a stigma in the community. According to a study conducted by Ward, Wiltshire, Detry, and Brown in 2013 : African Americans hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors. They state that the participants in the study were not very open to acknowledging their psychological problems but were open to seeking help. Black men in particular are concerned about stigma. They are to taught to be strong, prideful, not to cry, deal with our own problems and acknowledging that you have a psychological problem would contradict that. Stigma and judgment prevents Black/African Americans from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses. Instead of seeking professional help for conditions such as depression and anxiety, many in the community resort to self-medication (drugs, opioids, alcohol, etc.) or isolation in an attempt to solve their problems on their own. Many African Americans also have trouble recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, leading to underestimating the effects and impact of mental health conditions. African Americans believe that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy”. I have heard this all of my life. “You want to see a therapist? Why? You crazy! That’s for white people.” Since when did seeking help to resolve mental health become a “white thing”? Furthermore, many believe that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among family.
Without mental health, we cannot be healthy. Without proper treatment your mental health conditions can get worse and make life harder for you to function on a day to day. Mental health is psychological, meaning it can affect your brain, which is muscle. Just like every other muscle, if not properly maintained, it can fail you. Anyone can develop a mental health problem. It isn’t your fault or your family’s fault. Seeking treatment can help you live a fulfilled life and can strengthen you and your family for the future. I have learned through experience how useful and helpful seeking psychiatric help has been.
. Research has found that many African Americans rely on faith, family and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though medical or therapeutic treatment may be necessary. This is another thing that I have heard all of my life. Growing up in a Christian home, I would always hear “pray about it” “God will get you through it”. Although at the time I believed that, I now see that without work, faith holds no weight. That’s like wishing to become a millionaire and expecting the money to fall into your lap. Without working towards that goal, it will never be reached. Same goes for mental health, without seeking professional help, you probably wont resolve that issue effectively. Yet only 33.6% of African Americans with depression seek professional help.
Positive mental health allows people to realize their full potentials, cope with the stresses of life, work productively, and make meaningful contributions to their communities. Having solid mental health doesn’t mean that you never go through bad times or experience emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress. But just as physically healthy people are better able to bounce back from illness or injury, people with strong mental health are better able to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience. People who are emotionally and mentally resilient have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and productive, in bad times as well as good. Their resilience also makes them less afraid of new experiences or an uncertain future. Even when they don’t immediately know how a problem will get resolved, they are hopeful that a solution will eventually be found. Mental health awareness is being advocated more all over the world and I am truly excited about it. Most schools now have mental health supports available to students. Mental health challenges can start young, so awareness and services should as well. Whether you’re looking to cope with a specific mental health problem, handle your emotions better, or simply to feel more positive and energetic, there are plenty of ways to take control of your mental health. If we are unable to remove the negative stigma surrounding mental health in the black community, we are willingly allowing another generation to grow up without access to counseling and mental health improvement resources that can help them live a happy, healthy life.