In honor of Black History Month, health professionals should also recognize the many mental-health-related challenges the community faces. While mental health problems are on the rise for all communities due to the pandemic, a fluctuating economy, and increased stress levels, many in the Black community face other, unique disparities. Read ahead for an overview of these mental health-related challenges and how health professionals can work to address them.
Black Communities and Mental Health
Roughly 13.4% of the population identifies as Black or African American. Of that percentage, 16% struggle with some form of mental illness. While 16% may not seem like a huge number at first glance, it includes nearly 7 million people. This percentage has increased in the last 2 years due to legal, social, and economic disparities caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans are roughly 2-5 times likelier to die of COVID. These disproportionate death and hospitalization rates can also increase mental health problems, as physical health problems impact a person’s wellbeing.
It’s also much harder for Black Americans to access mental health care. Economic conditions and job losses make it much harder to afford it. Moreover, those with preexisting mental health conditions tend to avoid the help they so desperately need. This may be due to a previous incarceration status, homelessness, or stigma.
Studies back up these assertions. Blacks report feeling sadder, more hopeless, and more depressed than white Americans. Black teenagers are also more likely to commit suicide than white teenagers. Black Americans are less likely to ask for help for a mental illness and find it harder to admit they struggle with a psychological problem. This may be due to the fear of stigma, which is particularly high among Black males.
Unfortunately, only 2% of American Psychological Association members are Black. This leads some experts to believe that the Association is not equipped to handle or treat the unique challenges facing the community.
While certain disparities require immediate attention, there is also an increased awareness of the problem. This had led to an increase in the number of organizations that address mental illness in the Black community.
Finding Help and Being an Advocate
Individuals across all communities can work together to address mental health problems in the Black population. Volunteering at local organizations, supporting those in need, attending awareness events, posting on social media, and lobbying politicians to prioritize Black mental health are all great starting points. The more individuals talk about the problems facing the community, the more mental illness is destigmatized. This will make it likelier that Black individuals access and seek the treatment that they need.
Several organizations spread awareness, provide resources, and help Black Americans access mental health services. These include:
· Black Emotional and Mental Health – Trains individuals and offers grants, intending to improve health and wellness in the Black community. They provide toolkits, educational videos/charts, and other features to help in this cause.
· The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation – Eliminates stigmas and builds trust with others in the Black community to ensure everyone obtains the help they need. Offers resource guides with lists of therapists, support groups, and treatment centers.
· The Loveland Foundation – Provides financial help to Black individuals who are seeking help with a mental health condition.
· Safe Black Space – An organization that provides links to various services that relate to overcoming racial and cultural adversities.
Straight Talk is another organization that provides counseling, prevention services, and wellness initiatives to clients of all backgrounds. They also offer affordable teletherapy, trauma-informed care, in-home counseling for the elderly, and other resources to help their clients.