The Acceptance and Rejection of Mental Health in the Black Community

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The phrase “just pray on it” is a common saying in regards to mental health issues, disparities and emotions in the black community. Major mental disorders are often ignored due to lack of knowledge and understanding. There’s this stigma about psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects the community’s coping behaviors. It’s almost considered to be taboo and some believing that mental disorders and disparities are “white issues.” Members of the black community, unfortunately, associate mental health disorders with weakness. Some believe that if one acknowledges their mental illness that they are at fault. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Yet young adult African Americans, especially those with higher levels of education, are less likely to seek mental health services than their White counterparts, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association. The black community’s responses to mental illness are rationalized into the community because of attitudes and cultural stigma from socio-economic struggles: medical treatment issues, accessibility and affordability, and social/cultural suppression.

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While diagnosing any mental illness requires treatment from a professional, understanding and detecting the signs and symptoms can be done right at home and is often the first step; identifying and accepting a problem exist. However, it is very common for the black community to dismiss the warning signs of a mental disorder, because in most black household, children are not allowed to express their true emotions; otherwise they risk being labeled as “weak” or “troublesome”. Especially for young black men, they are often told by their families to “be a man” and to “toughen up.” These sayings only contribute to ignorance of mental disorders and the lack of medical attention, thus, worsening the symptoms, possibly leading to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. While Black/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.

The collective sense of black distrust in medicine also plays a major role in the ignorance of mental disparities. According to The Hill, many black Americans do not trust their healthcare providers to act in their best interests. Research has shown that blacks are much less likely to report trust in their physicians and hospitals; thus, are less likely to seek treatment or be compliant with recommended treatment plans. Research also has shown when blacks have the same diseases as their white counterparts; blacks are much more likely died sooner. In addition, with the long history of abuse and malpractice against people of color in medicine, the black community often believes it’s safer to not visit a physician. Without proper acknowledgement and treatment, mental illnesses progress and worsen, often leading to other illnesses and disabilities, as well as a shorter lifespan.

Black communities are also more likely to experience certain factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as poverty. African Americans make up 40% of the homeless population in the United States, while African Caribbean and Africans suffer, having among the highest level of poverty in the world. Unlike MEDCs (more economically developed countries), the United States, LEDCs (less economically developed countries in the Caribbean), such as Jamaica and Haiti or in Africa, such as Democratic Republic of the Congo, are unlikely to get the medical treatment needed because of the unstable economy and underdeveloped medical procedures and tools. Thus, the population is unlikely to get the proper medical aid they need. Severe poverty causes a lack of education, which plays a major part in the fact that the black community is not able to get treatment for mental illnesses. The black culture, especially in the Caribbean, lacks an understanding about the science behind mental illnesses. People with mental illness in the black community often feel as if they are being attacked when the conversation is brought up about their condition because the terms offend them, bringing a sense of lacking or inadequate ability to cope in society. A better understanding of what mental illnesses in the black community will make a huge difference not only in the portion it’s affecting but will bring the community closer together as well; however, before that can occur, there needs to be acknowledgement that a problem exist, because solutions cannot be made without admitting there is a problem to be solved.

Mental illnesses have affected the human race population since the beginning of time. Advances in technology throughout the ages have made it easier to understand the fundamentals of these illnesses, thus allowing a social and medical shift in the perspective of mental health. Nonetheless, in a culture where men have to contain all their emotions within, women are deem as “naturally” dramatic and emotional, violence and poverty raises their children in a society that suppress them to the point that it limits the accessibility and affordability to proper treatment in a field that has mistreated them for centuries; the Black community still struggle to acceptance mental disorders and disparities for what it truly is. Mental disparities are being put in the light more and more each year because African American celebrities and public figures that experience mental trauma or commit suicide are being brought into the light, sparking conversation and a need to improve and change this stigma of mental disorders. 

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