With recent cases of suicides such as the ones of Titi Branch, co-Founder of Miss Jessie’s and legendary Soul Train presenter Don Cornelius, the discussion of Black mental health issues have been brought to light throughout the African-American community.
Though the conversation has started, statistics and overall attitudes within African-American communities about the state of Black mental health aren’t adding up.
According to Mental Health America, 63 percent of African-Americans believe that depression is a weakness, and only 31 percent believe depression is a health issue. But the number of Blacks who believe depression and other aspects of mental health are non-issues only strengthens as they matriculate through higher education, according to the American Psychological Association.
Washington D.C. Psychologist and Howard University Counseling Center Coordinator, Dr. Marcus Hummings, Psy.D, believes visibility of mental health issues Blacks are facing is key.
“If we can’t see mental health issues or professionals and engage mental health professionals, how are we supposed to know they exist? [Once we see them,] they are no longer a stigma and the mental health professionals are no longer just a person behind an office door,” Hummings said.
The statistics surrounding Black mental health have always marched loud and clear. Recent reports from the National Alliance of Mental Health show that Blacks are disproportionately more likely to face social circumstances (such as violence in the home, homelessness, and socioeconomic disadvantages) that will catalyst mental health issues.
This, coupled with the fact that African-Americans are also more likely to receive inaccurate diagnoses than their White counterparts, has many Blacks suffering in silence or reaching out to family and peers that cannot provide answers.
Mental Health America reports that the main barriers surrounding African-American and addressing their mental health issues are: denial, embarrassment/shame, overall refusal to ask for help, lack of money/insurance, fear, lack of knowledge, and hopelessness.
Many African-Americans believe these barriers are also heightened by the common expression that ‘therapists are for White people’. This belief is typically reaffirmed in the Black community by the criminalization of Blacks reported to have committed crimes versus the way the media often attributes mental health issues to convicted White offenders.
Hummings states that the answers to the misdiagnosis and misconception can be changed through research of Black issues.
“I’m not surprised by the notion [within the Black community.] Often times, the ‘majority society’ carries negative stereotypes and negative stigmas about Blacks. There is a lot of discrimination on top of the discrimination of gender and education. You have a lot of negative stressors that go along with race. More research and studies addressing African-American issues is key. There is not nearly as much about Black mental health as there is [research about] the majority society. The clinician and people in all communities have to be educated about cultural issues, and educated about the research in findings of the study of Black population, “ Hummings said.
The National Association of Mental Illness also reports that due to lack of cultural understandings and historical misdiagnosis, Blacks are likely to drop sessions if attending. Mental Health America reports African-American physicians are five times more likely to treat African-American patients.
But African-Americans seeking help from a Black mental health professional may have a hard time finding one, fewer than 5 percent of psychologists are Black.
Hummings states that no one should be at a dead-end with a clinician who lacks cultural understanding.
“There are many options for mental health services, often times just don’t take advantage of them, but if you do not feel clinician is treating you in an appropriate manner you can seek other services. You can even ask that clonission for a referrals to other clinicians to treat them in their condition. You’re not necessarily stuck, you can ask for your case to be transferred to someone who is someone more culturally sensitive to your issues. It’s a common misconception that the clinician to understand what your experience is or has been through what you’ve been through, the clinician only has to help you come up with new ways to cope and achieve the goals you’ve preset,” Hummings said.
Hummings strongly asserts that this miseducation within the African-American community and surrounding the community doesn’t have to continue and that if you know someone who needs help, the best thing you can do is suggest a professional so they do not have to suffer in silence.
“Express concern, that’s the most important thing. Through concern comes the recommendation to get help. Express concern about the person’s condition and your desire to help them. That is not to say that you as the friend takes the role of the professional. Often times people should think of themselves as a gateway between their friend that has a problem and the mental health professional. Be concerned, ask about how they’re doing, encourage them to go and seek out a professional,” Hummings stated.