Black Mental Health Matters

Many people call the widespread prevalence of Mental Health issues in America an epidemic, a crisis, and a state of emergency.  I agree.  Everyone feels the gravity of either struggling with mental health issues personally or having close relatives and friends who struggle with mental health issues.  Moreover, the statistics about African American Mental Health, specifically, are absolutely alarming.

A report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, states the following:

  • Poverty level affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are twice as likely to report psychological distress.
  • In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans, ages 15 to 24. [1]
  • The death rate from suicide for African American men was more than four times greater than for African American women, in 2017.
  • African American females, grades 9-12, were 70 percent more likely to attempt suicide in 2017, as compared to non-Hispanic white females of the same age.
  • A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233 percent, as compared to 120 percent of non-Hispanic whites. [2]

According to the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) “In the African American community, many people misunderstand what a mental health condition is and don’t talk about this topic. Many African Americans also have trouble recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions, leading to underestimating the effects and impact of mental health conditions.” [3]

As an African American, living in America, I have seen and experienced first hand the effects of mental health issues and mental illness.  Treatment options are available, but there are barriers that inhibit African Americans from seeking treatment.  Some of those barriers are:

  1. Education: Many of us didn’t grow up with language to help us identify depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and suicidal ideation.  Many of us don’t know the symptoms of these and many other mental health conditions.
  2. Stigma: Many people in our community are labeled if they have a known mental health issue. The epithet often given to a person seeking therapy is “crazy.”  Family members who seek mental health treatment may be talked about, confronted angrily, and ostracized.
  3. Religious beliefs: For years, the Black church was the one stop shop for all needs: spiritual, mental, emotional, social, academic, and even financial.  Because of this, there can be an over-reliance on religious practices as mental health treatment.
  4.  Understanding value and investment:  Black Americans spend more than any other race.  Now there’s a lot to be said about unfair socioeconomic policies that aim to keep us disadvantaged, but when it comes to buying consumer goods, Black people do spend a lot of money.  Some members of the African American population don’t understand that mental health treatment is an investment in yourself and adds value to your quality of life. This is not only a value to you, but a value to your family, children, grandchildren, and community.

I speak from my heart, when I say, I love being Black and I love Black people.  We are creators and creatives, innovators and enterprising, nurturers and care-givers.  Yes, we are strong and hardworking.  But sometimes these labels keep us bearing the weight of America on our shoulders.  Bottom line:  we have to start putting ourselves – our health and well-being as top priority to continue living, loving, laughing, and finding fulfillment in the greatness that we are.  

1. CDC. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). [Accessed 08/02/2019].

2. U.S. Surgeon General, 2001.

3. NAMI, retrieved 2020. African American Mental Health.

Published by Counseling With Leslie

Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LCMHC is a North Carolina and Virginia board-certified licensed professional counselor. She co-owns a successful practice in Carrboro, North Carolina. Leslie specializes in helping adults navigate stress, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. Additionally, she is a life strategist, spiritual coach, and writer.

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