Let’s start with some facts…
According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, Adult Blacks and African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult whites.
According to a national survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Sixteen percent (4.8 million) of Black and African American people reported having a mental illness, and 22.4 percent of those (1.1 million people) reported a serious mental illness over the past year.
58.2 percent of Black and African American young adults 18-25 and 50.1 percent of adults 26-49 with serious mental illness did NOT receive treatment, and nearly 90 percent of Black and African American people over the age of 12 with a substance use disorder did NOT receive treatment.
The facts speak for themselves and the figures are worrisome. Black Americans may face mental health obstacles at a higher rate than other groups, yet Black people are also less likely than others to seek and receive the treatment they need. Several studies of attitudes and beliefs about mental health have shown that African American adults may view mental illness as a weakness or highly stigmatizing. These beliefs are formed through personal experiences, family life, culture, and traditions - resulting in low psychological openness, and low help-and-treatment-seeking, which ultimately affect coping behaviors. To address the stigma and this perception of mental health challenges, certain steps can be taken to raise mental health awareness and promote acceptance in the Black community.
Address the stigma head-on: Mental illness does not discriminate based on skin color. We are all human and the reality is that a lot of us will struggle with our mental health at some point. Getting support is not a weak thing to do. Become aware of your attitudes and beliefs to reduce implicit bias or negative perceptions of mental illness.
Validate barriers and disseminate information in cultural sensitive ways: Valuable information about mental health doesn’t always reach the Black community, and if it does, it may be culturally biased and may also be received through the lens of stigma. It is therefore important to educate professionals, communities, families and friends about the challenges of mental health within the black community, ensuring that the information is not only received but also making sure it is understood.
Normalize conversations about mental health. Call out and bring awareness to the use of language that helps perpetuate the stigma. Normalize talking about mental health challenges. More conversations about mental health should occur.
Acknowledge cultural differences. Mental health professionals should reflect on their cultural biases, and engage in continued education about cultural sensitivity to provide services that are useful and effective. Beyond the stigma and judgment which may prevent Black and African American people from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses, many struggle with the choice of mental health professionals because some may worry that mental health care practitioners are not culturally competent enough to treat their specific issues. Representation and understanding amongst mental health providers matters.
“At RAI Counseling Services, we are a black-owned mental health practice that understands the intricacies and sensitivities of mental health within the black community”, says Mercy Tandoh, LMHC - Founder and Director. “We have a diverse team of culturally sensitive therapists and our mission is to support our clients through respect, compassion, and empowerment” she said. In addition to stigma and access to mental health providers who cater to ethnic and cultural gaps among patient populations, some of these barriers are socioeconomic. In lower-income communities, families may not be able to afford counseling or have health insurance access that they could use for treatment and pharmaceutical intervention. This is a critical reason why Mercy Tandoh also created the RAI Cares Program. Understanding the challenges black and minority communities face, The RAI Cares Program's goal is to provide affordable and accessible counseling to low-income clients, clients without insurance, or clients who are having difficulty finding counselors that accept their insurance.