1) Why don’t we adequately recognize and treat anxiety, depression and other mental health issues in our community; what are the consequences of that?
There is a deeply rooted stigma around mental health in our community.
Too many in our community have dismissed mental illness for the following reasons:
There is the assertion that African Americans are a strong race of people that can withstand any sort of adversity as a result of slavery; making us largely immune from mental illness. Furthermore, there is still an active belief of “the strong black man” and “the strong black woman,” who is supposed to be strong, present and capable for everyone in his/her family, neglecting his/her own needs. We have been conditioned to appear as though we are not hurting. Without support from the community, or at least family and friends, how can one begin to heal?
- For some of us, in our minds, admitting and tackling our mental illness make us appear vulnerable. We are so afraid of the stigma attached to mental illness. There is also the perception that others may think of them as being “crazy” or “weak”.
Many white people will freely reference “seeing a therapist” in normal conversation. Black people, on the other hand, don’t do that. In the black community, seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. Some of us feel that prayer is the only form of counseling and medication required to take care of whatever trials and tribulations we are going through.
- According to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), suicide is the third most common cause of death among African-American males between 15 and 24 years old. Our youths are hurting. However, instead of being encouraged to talk about their pain, they have been told to solely ‘pray on it’ or ‘man up’. Yes, it is important that we pray. Nonetheless, prayer and action must go hand in hand. Seeking therapy or a support group is an avenue that is not readily pursued, as it is not fostered.
- Moreover, some of our people living with mental illness feel that they could handle their problems on their own. What’s more, there is still the belief that a person should not share their personal business with the world or outsiders; thus preventing us from seeking the treatment we need.
2) What extra stresses do we carry as Black people that make us vulnerable to anxiety, depression, bipolar, and other mental illnesses?
The extra stresses that we carry as Black people that make us particularly vulnerable are racism, poverty and prejudice at disproportionate rates. Even for those who may be aware of their illness, some of us tend to have fewer financial resources for coping with this stress than our White counterparts. The aforementioned is significantly related to lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, and higher levels of psychological distress. Over time, an untreated diagnosis can likely cause mental and physical deterioration of a person’s health.
Why is there such a stigma among African Americans about mental health treatment? How do we reduce the stigma and where do we turn for help?
- In my private practice, some of my African American clients have shared that they did not reveal to any member in their family that they are seeing me due to feeling shame.
- As a result of this shame, many African Americans suffer in silence. At the heart of shame is a fear of disconnection. If I share what I am going through or a part of me that is not so desirable, will I still be worthy of connection? Because we fear disconnection, we don’t allow ourselves to really be seen.
There is a profound fear in being labeled ‘a mental health patient.’
The starting point for reducing stigma is education. In addition to treatment, participation in a patient support group can be very helpful during the recovery process. Support group members share their experiences with the illness, learn coping skills and exchange information on community providers. Supporting people to talk to about their mental health problems, may mean they are more likely to seek help.
75 percent of those affected do not receive the treatment they need. If left untreated, certain mental health problems — such as psychosis, depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder could get worse.
- One aspect of this is to listen to the concerns of the people whose attitudes you wish to change. We need to challenge stereotypes in ourselves and others, and pursue the ongoing task of unraveling the stereotypical beliefs, such as “dangerous”, “worthless”, “weak”.
- We have to move to public education such as family target groups, network community and advocate group society.
by Vladimire Calixte
Calixte holds a Sociology degree from Hunter College and a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology from New York University. She has worked in the field of psychology field for over a decade and has helped various clients around the world overcome addiction, depression, anxiety, self-esteem, trauma, and sexual abuse and PTSD. Mrs. Calixte provides individual, couples, and family therapy, and is currently pursuing her PhD in Clinical Psychology.