Let’s Talk About: The Black Community and Mental Health

February 4, 2021

As part of Black History Month, we would like to recognize the barriers to mental health services and support for Black individuals. We also want to amplify Black voices in the mental health space, who are creating positive change. In this post, we will explore the intersection of the Black community and mental health.

The Black Community and Mental Health

Black Americans have faced immense historical trauma and adversity, from racism, discrimination and exclusion from health, educational, social, and economic resources in this country. The intergenerational racial trauma in the Black community has often taken a toll on Black mental health:

  • Mental health conditions affect one in four Black Americans.
  • Black adults are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues than the rest of the population.
  • Adult Black Americans living below poverty are three times more likely to report severe psychological problems than those living above poverty.
  • Black Americans of all ages are more likely to witness or be victims of serious violent crimes. Exposure to violence increases risk of developing a mental health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.
  • Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness, hopelessness and feeling like everything is an effort.

Barriers for Black Americans

Despite these prevalent mental health concerns, there are still many disparities in the mental health field and barriers that make mental health services much less accessible for Black Americans. This NAMI article further confirms this reality by acknowledging that only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Mental Health Facts for African Americans guide, Black Americans are also:

  • Less likely to receive guideline-consistent care
  • Less frequently included in research
  • More likely to use emergency rooms or primary care (rather than mental health specialists)

There are many reasons that Black Americans are less likely to receive important mental health support, including: stigma, socioeconomic disparities, provider bias and inequality of care. There is also often a lack of cultural competency from mental health professionals. This can result in misdiagnosis or inadequate treatment.

The Representation Issue

According to Black Mental Health, only 6.2 percent of psychologists, 5.6 percent of advanced-practice psychiatric nurses, 12.6 percent of social workers, and 21.3 percent of psychiatrists are members of minority groups. There is a clear lack of representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) groups in the mental healthcare field. Representation matters. The lack of minority representation can make it even more difficult for Black Americans to receive proper support and treatment.

Another important factor to bring up is Oregon’s issue with representation. The state of Oregon was founded on racial discrimination and white supremacy. There is a major diversity issue in Oregon because of this. It’s important that we recognize Oregon’s history and that we work to actively unlearn white supremacist ideologies that persist in our everyday lives. We must educate ourselves and do better as mental health professionals. We must also create space and opportunities for BIPOC individuals in the mental health field, so that there is more representation for BIPOC clients.

How to Seek a Culturally Competent Provider

When seeking out a mental health professional, cultural competency is an important trait to look for. Those in the Black community can ask their mental health professionals these questions:

  • Have you treated other Black people or received training in cultural competence for Black mental health? If not, how do you plan to provide me with culturally sensitive, patient-centered care?
  • How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
  • Do you use a different approach in your treatment when working with patients from different cultural backgrounds?
  • What is your current understanding of differences in health outcomes for Black patients?

It’s important for us to continue to explore how the mental health field intersects the Black community. We must acknowledge the disparity of mental health resources for the Black community. Next, we must actively look for ways to incorporate more diversity and cultural competency in the mental health profession. Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we highlight some incredible Black individuals who are making a difference in the mental health field.

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