Overall, mental health conditions occur in Black and African American communities people in America with about the same or less frequency than in White Americans. However, the historically Black and African American experience in America has been. It continues to be characterized by trauma and violence more often than for their White counterparts and impacts both youth and adults’ emotional and mental health.
Historical dehumanization, oppression, and violence against Black and African American people have evolved into present-day racism – structural, institutional, and individual – and cultivates a uniquely mistrustful and less affluent community experience characterized by a myriad of disparities, including inadequate access to and delivery of care in the health system. Processing and dealing with layers of individual trauma on top of new mass traumas from COVID-19, police brutality and its fetishization in news media, and divisive political rhetoric adds complex layers for individuals to manage responsibly.
Help-seeking behaviour is affected by mistrust of the medical system and often begins with faith-based outreach. However, MHA screening data shows that Black and African American people who screen positive for depression self-identify as planning to seek help at higher rates than the general population says they will seek help. Unfortunately, Black and African American community providers, known to give more appropriate and effective care to Black and African American help-seekers, make up a small portion of the behavioural health provider workforce. Because of these factors, Black and African American people are more likely to experience chronic and persistent, rather than episodic, mental health conditions. Yet, hope for recovery should remain as light is shed on these issues – and the general public holds accountable policymakers and health systems to evolve better systems which eliminate inequities in mental health services.
According to a study conducted in 2013:
- Black and African Americans hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, affecting their coping behaviours. The participants in this study were not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, but they were somewhat open to seeking mental health services.
- Thirty per cent of participants reported having a mental illness or receiving treatment for a mental illness.
- Black and African American men are particularly concerned about stigma.
- Cohort effects, exposure to mental illness, and increased knowledge of mental illness are factors that could potentially change beliefs about symptoms of mental illness.
- Participants appeared apprehensive about seeking professional help for mental health issues, consistent with previous research. However, participants were willing to seek out some form of help.
Black and African American people are more often diagnosed with schizophrenia and less often diagnosed with mood disorders compared to white people with the same symptoms. Additionally, they are offered medication or therapy at lower rates than the general population.
Stigma and judgment prevent Black and African American people from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses. Research indicates that Blacks and African Americans believe that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles. Furthermore, many believe that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among families.