The African American community is no different from other communities when it comes to mental health. Yet, it faces disparity when it comes to access to quality care. This disparity can be attributed to three reasons; lack of resources, lack in quality of care and a stigma surrounding mental health in the community.
The stigma exists from lack of trust in the medical system, lack of services that are culturally aware and the need for privacy. All of these concerns coming from the community are legitimate. Black folks are more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia due to the lack of understanding on part of the physician about how distress is expressed in the community.
Rather than being offered psychotherapy or medication, African American folks suffering from mental health have to rely on emergency treatments. They are not provided complete information about available options for care. Those whose mental health continues to worsen face incarceration in their future.
The mistrust of black folks in most systems carries over to mental health professionals and services. Black folks have a strong need to show resilience and strength which ensures survival. This means keeping one’s issues to oneself. This policy of “keeping it in the family” has created a cycle of suppression which has resulted in black folks unequipped to deal with mental health issues. The shortage of black therapists also makes taking the therapy route difficult.
Living in a system which doesn’t value them or give them the benefit of doubt, black folks tend to internalize racist ideas about themselves. Not only does it cause low self-esteem and mental anguish, it also causes stress that can lead to life-threatening cardiovascular problems. Considering the ever-present danger of police violence, cases of Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have become common. Black youths are more susceptible to suicide than ever in history. The lack of insurance or under-insurance makes it even more difficult for Black folks to access to quality care.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, only 1 out of 3 African Americans receives the mental health care needed. Adding more hurdles are ideas of black masculinity and femininity that frown upon reaching out for mental health. It is time that instead of further propagating harmful myths, effort should be made to start a dialogue about mental health in the black community and access to quality and affordable mental health care is demanded.