Updated: Jan 20
According to the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, the adult Black community is 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems, yet only one in three African-Americans who need help actually receive it. To give a comparison: About 25% of Black people seek mental care compared to 40% of whites.
There are a number of barriers that account for this disparity, which makes it harder for Black people to receive access to mental health professionals. Those barriers include but are not limited to a lack of Black therapists, cultural stigma within the black community, and high costs.
1. High Costs Of Mental Health
Despite the Affordable Care Act, around 12% of African-Americans are uninsured and, as Dr. LaToya Gaines, PsyD, notes, even those with health insurance often don’t have mental health services covered or have expensive co-pays or deductibles. Some therapists choose not to take insurance and many people do not understand how to use out of network benefits to cover the cost of sessions. Paying out of pocket often isn’t an option for a lot of Black people. The lack of financial freedom stops them from being able to consistently engage in mental health care.
2. Shame Around Mental Health
The black community often shames people who go into therapy. A lot of black people will find humor in the fact that someone needs help. You know what: Everybody needs a little help sometime. I remember being diagnosed with a severe mental illness (or should I say misdiagnosed) and before anyone could even crack a joke on me or gossip about me, I was on the internet researching how to kill myself. Now you know I was in a bad place. Some people will ruthlessly and maliciously go out of their way to shame you. If people can't find anything to shame you with, they will make up lies about you to shame you. This I know very well. We need to change the way we think and act.
3. Cultural Stigma Of Mental Illness
Shame often stems from a broader cultural stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community. Going to therapy is viewed as a sign of weakness and something to be ashamed of. A lot of Black people don't think of therapy as a realistic or viable option for help. Mental health isn't seen as something to focus on, improve, or get professional help for. Like I said before, everybody needs a little help sometime.
4. Lack of Diversity In Health Care
Often Black people prefer to talk to someone who looks like them and will better understand their experience but, unfortunately, in 2014, only around 2% of the American Psychological Association members and associates identified as Black. This not only makes it harder to find a therapist but also means there aren't enough therapists out there. The lack of representation can make it hard for those seeking a counselor to find the help they need when they need it.
5. Poor Competency Among Non-Black Clinicians
Not all clinicians are trained to be aware or curious about how culture, race, and ethnicity impact a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Sometimes you've got to live through something to understand something.
6. Whiteness As A Foundation to Mental Health Care
Most of the psychological training that therapists receive is based on the experiences of “white people, norms, values, and beliefs,” which can influence the competency of non-Black therapists.
7. Distrust of the Medical Industry
Many Black people have grown suspicious of the broader health care system due to a history of being mistreated and misdiagnosed that extends back to slavery.
8. Difficulty Navigating The Process
Most people do not know what questions to ask a potential therapist when meeting for the first time to ensure they are the right fit. Educate yourselves and take a self-inventory to figure out what you need in a therapist and in therapy.
9. Emotional Hesitation
Black people are often taught to keep our feelings to ourselves. Even after finding a therapist, the process of opening up can be particularly difficult. We do not like talking about emotions because many of us were not directly taught how to do it.
10. Negative Past Experiences
It is often common that black people have seen a counselor in the past—voluntarily and/or involuntarily—and the experience was not great. This could be due to the therapist’s lack of cultural awareness and competence or other factors. Those negative experiences can dissuade Black people from finding a new counselor and continuing the healing process.
The takeaway: All of these issues make it more difficult to find and get help. At the same time, systemic racism and abuse issues are taking a big toll on Black mental health and is fueling the crisis of depression and suicide in our community.
In the words of Lawrence Fishburne in School Daze: "Wake up!"
Look at it like this: You may hurt yourself or somebody else if you don't seek help. Everybody needs a little help sometime.
Here I am purposely engaged in living an inspired life!