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Where Is the Mental Health Awareness in the Black Community?

Imagine having a child who displays symptoms of mental health issues but not taking them to see someone because your family thinks the child just needs a good spanking?

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Mental health in the black community is an under addressed epidemic and building an awareness is imperative. Specifically, in the urban inner-city areas. Research has pointed out that blacks are more likely to have major mental health issues than other members of the US population because blacks experience violence and traumatic situations more frequently than any other groups.

Although the black population is at risk of an increase in mental health diagnoses, blacks are less likely to commit suicide as a result of mental health issues. This fact is still alarming because suicide death rates due to mental health issues are still on the rise. PTSD because of traumatic events, major depression as a result of socio-economic status, ADHD, and other mental health ailments plague the community. Not knowing the signs or ignoring the signs is a huge detriment.

One of the major issues in dealing with mental health issues within the black community is that blacks often do not recognize the symptoms early on. Prior to my son being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD) my parents or other older adults would say he just needs attention, or that there is nothing a good spanking wouldn’t fix. I had to take time out to research his symptoms and when I came across a number of conclusions, I decided to speak the proper advice.

Across the black community, blacks would point to symptoms as other issues unrelated to mental disorders rather than face the fact that their child/children or family member may have a mental health issue. I was told once that my son does not have ADHD and that it was a white man’s way of making money from people who do not know or understand. Statements such as the one above highlights the need for serious mental health conversations within the black community.

Moreover, another major issue one must address is the lack of Blacks as mental health professionals. Within the mental health profession across the United States, there are only two percent of professionals who are black according to research. Be it psychologists, counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, whatever the discipline, blacks make up just two percent. This fact is important to note because representation matter. Mental health counseling is built on trust and it is easier to build trust with someone that looks like you and have gone through a similar experience than someone who has not.

Representation within the mental health profession is just as important as representation within the educational institutions. The trainers training the professionals should also reflect the professional’s background. Meaning there should be more blacks teaching and training their own. Messages are often conveyed differently and are more meaningful. It also shows the youth that it is possible for them to be in those positions.

How do mental health professionals connect with a population filled with mistrust? Blacks are more likely to turn to spiritual leaders or elders in their household or communities for advice in lieu of seeking professional advice. One of the causes to seeking someone within the community is the fact that many black folk have had bad experiences with the healthcare system or knows someone negatively impacted or misdiagnosed by healthcare professionals.

Conversely, research suggests that blacks are often over diagnosed in many mental health areas with and prescribed an abundant supply of medication. These facts simply make it difficult for blacks to trust the health system.

Whatever the cause or excuse, it is important for blacks to become educated on mental health issues and recognizing symptoms. It is also important for blacks to seek out mental health advice or opinions when notable symptoms persist. Raising awareness of mental health issues in the black community is just as important as suicide awareness, STD awareness or other diseases. As prevalent as Black Lives Matter is as it relates to police brutality and injustice to blacks and other minorities, it is just as relevant to raise awareness for mental health in the black community. 

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