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Thursday, September 20, 2018

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Mental health taboo plagues, hinders black communities


Sonny Singh/The Cougar

“If you went to church, you wouldn’t feel this way.”

This all-too-common quote and similar narratives are the responses many people in the African American community get when they voice their struggles with mental health.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among black youth ages 15-24, but only 2.4 percent getting treatment for mental health issues. This has to change.

The belief that black people don’t have time to feel depressed, or that spiritual salvation is the solution, is a toxic mindset that plagues the African American community. Many African Americans have trouble recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, often dismissing traits of depression, anxiety and other illnesses as moods you can just snap out of with determination and prayer, when treatment is actually much more complex.

Because of the lack of information surrounding mental health, it is not always clear how to find the help you need or if you should even seek any help at all.

While the lack of empathy and requisite knowledge concerning mental health plays a huge factor in stopping African Americans from getting necessary help, so does socioeconomic background.

Historical hardships such as slavery, racism, Jim Crow laws and other race-related traumas involving health, education, social and economic resources transcribe into the socioeconomic disparities African-Americans experience today.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population and are prone to developing severe cases of depression, PTSD and even schizophrenia more than the average American.

Yet stigma and lack of resources force people to continue practicing a culture of silent suffering.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2012, 21 percent of African Americans had no form of health insurance, making it nearly impossible to get the medications and therapy they needed.

While implementation of the Affordable Care Act has helped lower the uninsured rate for African Americans from 18.9 percent to 11.7 percent between 2013 and 2016,  African Americans still have higher uninsured rates than Whites (7.5 percent) and Asians (6.3 percent).

Due to the lack of black therapists and psychologists, some fear that the majority of health care practitioners are not culturally capable or aware enough to treat or understand issues specific to African Americans. In 2013, less than 6 percent of American Psychological Association members were black, which caused patients to feel uncomfortable or unable to relate to their therapists. There have even been reports of slight racism and cases of microaggression, which disrupt the process of therapy and create more harm than healing.

Despite the milestones achieved over the years, racism continues to have a major impact on the mental health of African Americans. Negative stereotypes, blatant racism and rejection from society affect the subconscious, even more when it’s because of the color of your skin.
Education about mental disorders and the treatment process is extremely critical in breaking the stigma that disrupts the black community.

By creating public education campaigns, educational presentations at community venues and open information sessions at local mental health clinics, we can address the issues that haunt many African Americans and encourage them to seek treatment by making it easier to find instead of sweeping it under the rug and pretending that African Americans are invincible to mental health issues.

This silent suffering has plagued the community for long enough. Taboo surrounding the conversation of mental health in black households and black communities has become an impediment to progress and growth.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Assistant opinion editor Bethel Biru is a broadcast journalism senior and can be reached at [email protected]

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