“Talking about your feelings is something only White people do.”  I remember thinking this while sitting in my in-patient rehab center while the counselor asked each of us sitting in the circle that morning to name how we were feeling that day.  Feelings were never discussed in my African-American household, and the only time I heard anyone talking about them was with nice White ladies with long skirts and even longer hair.  Feelings, emotions, and mental health was not something I knew or cared anything about, because I did not think it applied to people who looked like me.

However, mental health is for everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity. There are 7 million Black and African- Americans living with mental illness in the United States today, and only one in three Blacks are getting the treatment that they need.  July is Minority Mental health month in the United States, where we aim to raise awareness about the importance of mental health in communities of color in the United States, while also acknowledging historical barriers and disparities that have precluded appropriate treatment. 

Stigma – There is a high amount of stigma associated with mental health in communities of color in the United States.  According to a recent survey, 63% of Black people in the United States believe that poor mental health is a stigma of personal weakness. These attitudes are most prevalent among black men. Black people can often be hesitant to admit that they have psychological issues. Even mild depression or anxiety might give cause to someone in their peer group calling them “crazy.”

Provider Bias and Treatment Issues – A lack of cultural competency affects people of color receiving mental health treatments. Black and African-American people are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and less diagnosed with mood disorders compared to White people with the same symptoms.  Blacks are also less likely to be offered medication or therapy than White peers as well.

Access to proper healthcare and adequate insurance also preclude people of color from getting the help they need.  11.5% of Blacks were uninsured in 2018, vs 7.5% of Whites. In addition, 12.3% of Black and African American adults who visited the doctor had difficulty getting access to follow-up care vs. 6.8% of White adults.

Racism, on both the systemic and interpersonal levels, continue to affect the quality of life for African-Americans and people of color in the United States. Images of police brutality and racial tension pervade our media outlets, and affect the mental health of those watching – I know the summer of 2020 was very distressing for me and my family because of this exact reason.

If you are supporting a person of color who needs mental health treatment, or are a person of color seeking treatment, here is a short list of resources available to you to help you find accessible, culturally competent care.

Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM)BEAM is a training, movement building and grant making organization dedicated to the healing, wellness, and liberation of Black communities. BEAM envisions a world where there are no barriers to Black Healing.

Therapy for Black Girls:  an online space encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls; referral tool to find a therapist in your area

Therapy for Black Men: primarily a therapist directory for Black men seeking therapy; includes some resources and stories

Safe Black Space: Safe Black Space is the umbrella under which various services are offered to address people of African ancestry’s individual and community reactions to cultural and racial trauma.

Talking about your feelings is for everyone. Mental health is for everyone.  Hopefully we can continue to erase the stigma of mental health through education, raise awareness of its importance, and find the support through access to quality mental health treatment that we deserve and need.

Staff Blogger: Stephanie Reaves, Peer Services Educator

Stephanie grew up in the Philadelphia area and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Princeton University in New Jersey. She is currently a student at Bryn Mawr College earning her Masters in Social Service.

Stephanie enjoys being active in her community, and began volunteering at health fairs and other community events with MHA in 2017 after healing from her own struggles with mental health and substance abuse.

Stephanie officially joined the team as a Peer Educator in 2019. She enjoys hiking, cooking, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She believes in the power of kindness and empathy to make a difference in the lives of others, and is involved in her church community and in various 12-Step programs in the area.