Black Mental Health

Why Do Black People Suffer With Mental Illness In Silence?

February 14, 2018

Photo by Olayinka Babalola on Unsplash

 I like the Instagram account of Mental Minute Project (@Mentalminuteproject) who showcases videos about people who are living with mental illnesses. I have noticed that there are a few minorities on the page who have shared their stories, and I wondered why there weren’t more videos from minorities. I am so thankful for those who were brave enough to share their stories. We need more conversations like these within our communities. Thank you to MMP for providing the platform for others to share their stories.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US experience mental illness; that’s approximately 40 million Americans who are dealing with mental illnesses, there should be more videos from people of color.

As a therapist and a woman of color, I recognize there are many people of color who still believe that in seeking help, they are expressing weakness instead of strength, and this is just not true. It is always easier to hide from the things that cause us pain instead of dealing with them head on. It is always easier to give up than it is to fight for something that matters.

African Americans tend to focus a lot on past assumptions and past histories, we have a hard time of letting go of the past and focusing on the future. A lot of the prevalent thoughts and beliefs about mental illness are outdated and incorrect and we may not always be willing to amend or change our ideologies and assumptions when presented with new information.

Statistics (from NAMI) have shown that African Americans are 20% more likely than the population to experience serious mental health problems. For the trauma and social issues that people of color experience, in addition to all the social barriers that affect our communities, I’d wager that this percentage should be much higher.

The American Psychiatric Association noted common mental health conditions that affect the black community, such as chronic emotional stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. These are serious mental illnesses that when left untreated will only escalate. In everyday life, people of color deal with many social issues that are stressful, and though, it may have been normalized as part of our lives, these disorders and illnesses can escalate and cause more severe emotional problems.

So, why do black people continue to suffer in silence?

  1. Stigmas – Our culture and race has been viewed as weak and of lesser value throughout much of our histories, admitting to further conditions that are perceived as weak, keeps us suffering in silence. A black person has to work twice as hard as another person to prove our worth, why give someone more ammunition to view us as weak?
  2. Knowledge – Many of us still do not understand mental illness. Many of us feel that mental illnesses are ‘white people issues,’ we are still operating from outdated information or a refusal to believe that this is really happening to everyone.
  3. Faith – Many of us believe that if our ancestors were strong enough to overcome slavery and all kinds of atrocities, we should be strong enough to overcome mental illnesses. Some believe that we should be able to just pray it away, some believe that we should be able to seek only our pastors. Spirituality and faith should always play a role in treatment, but I am a firm believer that God wants us to practice our freewill and seek help for ourselves. We must understand that faith is not just an abstract principle, faith is believing and putting that belief into practice.
  4. Minority Representation – The lack of professional minority representation within the mental health field does not breed trust within the black community. Most of us are wary, distrustful/mistrustful of a field that is predominantly white; some may feel that they may not be able to connect with the clinicians and some may feel that the clinicians may not understand their experiences.
  5. Minimization – We tend to minimize our pain or rationalize our pain. Sometimes, the pain is so chronic and so much apart of our lives, we have normalized it and do not recognize that we are manifesting consequences of our pains in our daily lives.

We must recognize that although these may be valid concerns, we do not know what our experiences will be like until we venture out and try. Many of the reasons that we hold on to operate out of a fear-based belief and has the ability to hold us back and keep us suffering alone unnecessarily.

As you read through this post, I implore you to reach out to a clinician if this is evoking feelings or thoughts within you. Please check out my resources page to connect with a therapist of color in your neighborhood.

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