Mental Health Stigma in the African-American Community



As a health and wellness specialist, it is my job to provide effective means to assure optimal wellness for others. I design programs that are accessible for target populations to combat physical inactivity, lack of nutrition, and poor lifestyle behaviors. Although this is great in making strides towards bettering the lives of others, there are still important factors of wellness that are overlooked and not properly addressed. Spiritual wellness for instance, has flown under the radar and has become a topic with a stigma of don’t ask don’t tell attached to it. Mental health has also taken a negative connotation in some communities and the results of this have shown an increase in illnesses over the past years. This article will examine the importance of mental health and the effects of its negative stigma in the African-American community.


Mental health issues are prominent in all cultures and ethnicities. Today mental illness is often viewed as something that is not of significance. Many people grow up in environments with high levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. The result of these environments can be very hazardous to the children and can continue to affect them as they age. African-Americans make up 13.2% of the American population and of those 16% have a diagnosed mental illness[1]. This accounts for about 7 million black people in America with a mental health issue [1]. There are many issues that must be accounted for in the topic on mental health in the black community. The most significant and overlooked by non-minorities, is the historical adversity experienced by blacks. In other words, mental issues result from the past. Slavery, sharecropping and race-based exclusion from health, educational, social, and economic resources, translates into socioeconomic disparities experienced by African Americans today.1 Many researchers fail to acknowledge the effects these experiences have on the culture and rather tuck the past under the rug. The fact is, 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. This will continue to have an impact on the mental health of blacks in America until it is addressed.


Mental Health in Black Communities


According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, blacks are 20 percent more likely to experience psychological distress than whites.[2] Blacks are also much more likely to report feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness then whites and black teens are also more likely to commit suicide because of mental illness, than whites. These facts show the obvious issue at hand but knowing the facts is only half of the battle. Although it is true that blacks are more inclined to mental illness, blacks are less likely to seek treatment for their mental illnesses.


The Stigma


Mental health is not a topic that black people openly discuss or accept. A study was conducted that examined the mental health of a sample of blacks and treatment was offered for those who were diagnosed with mild to severe health issues. The participants in this study were not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, but they were somewhat open to seek mental health services.[3] It has been shown that black men, more than women, are more concerned with the stigma of mental health issues within the culture.3 In order for us to make progress and successfully treat these under-served populations, mental health must be acknowledged as an issue of significance. Parents should be mindful of what they expose their children to. They should pay attention to the behaviors and converse with their kids about mental health. This is the only way that we will collectively dissipate the issue.


Moving Forward


Educating the black communities on the effects of mental illness and their symptoms will allow us to better recognize the issues at hand. Making people more aware of the resources available to help with mental health is also important so that they may seek treatment when necessary. Targeting youth and adolescents that grow up in stressful environments will allow for early treatments and preventable interventions. Mental health is very important and not something that should be taken lightly in any culture or ethnicity. If you think someone may be experiencing a mental health issue, please assist them in seeking help.

Resources

[1] United States Census Bureau. (2014). Quick facts. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST120215/00

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Mental Health. (2016). Mental health and African Americans. Retrieved from http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=24

[3] Ward, E. C., Wiltshire, J. C., Detry, M. A., & Brown, R. L. (2013). African American men and women's attitude toward mental illness, perceptions of stigma, and preferred coping behaviors. Nursing Research, 62(3), 185-194. doi:10.1097/NNR.0b013e31827bf533



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