Mental Health has been becoming increasingly popular in the world today, just as important as physical and emotional health, than previous years. While persons still shy away from identifying with a mental health illness or problem, it remains to be an underlying cause of other health problems. The black community has seemingly associated mental health issues, such as anxiety and the popular depression, as being weak or ‘crazy’, however these issues can lead to more severe illnesses.
“If you mention to a black person you might have a mental disorder their response tends to be ‘I ain’t crazy! Ain’t nothing wrong with me!” – Jennifer Lewis, Actor on the Oprah Winfrey Show, 2007
But why is it that black persons refrain from seeking therapy for their mental health problems?
Here are a few reasons why this stands true in the communities they reside in today:
Black persons believe that depression and other mental illnesses are signs of weakness. As aforementioned, this is one of the most prevalent reasons why the black communities shy away from seeking mental health care. Once persons are seen as having a mental health problem, society’s first reaction to some is that they are excluded or discriminated against. While this should not be the case, we are plagued by attitudes and beliefs that nothing ‘good’ can come of persons living with mental illnesses. More times than one they are also said to be aggressive or lack the ability to function effectively and as such should be treated with caution; as supported by Dr. Graham Davey in his published article in the Psychology Today in 2013.
Crisp et al. (2000) conducted a survey that found:
- (1) The most commonly held belief was that people with mental health problems were dangerous – especially those with schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug dependence,
- (2) People believed that some mental health problems such as eating disorders and substance abuse were self-inflicted, and
- (3) Respondents believed that people with mental health problems were generally hard to talk to.
“We look at mental issues as, you know we’re strong and my parents were hard-working, so it’s something that is look at as a weakness.” – Pharoahe Monch, Rapper.
However, if we begin to sensitize persons and make them begin to understand that nothing has to be ‘wrong with you’ for you to experience a mental problem, which is in fact treatable, we will begin to have a greater acceptance of this type of health.
“Being educated about depression will go far into removing its stigma. Understanding it’s a mental illness and not a confused emotion will allow people to seek help irrespective of their background, gender, colour or social class. Until depression is respected as a mental health issue that requires treatment, people will continue to endure its negative effects.” – F. Quin
- Very few black therapists
“There are times when you want to talk to therapist who looks like “You”. My psychiatrist is a white male and sometimes, I have to remember that my experience isn’t exactly a point of reference for him.” – J. Floyd
Persons are more likely to identify with their own gender, race, social class, etc. If there are fewer psychologists or counsellors that they can identify with, talk to and share experiences, without being judged, then there will be a decrease in the amount of individuals willing to go to therapy.
“I am a Black therapist and 95% of my clients are Black and/or represent other marginalized and underserved populations. Most of whom report this being their first time in therapy or the previous therapist “wasn’t a good fit”. This is evidence that the need is there and diversity among providers is needed as well. Many times, talking to someone who looks like you and can relate across cultural lines is important and helps clients feel more comfortable. Also, to address the cost, my prices are 30% below market for the downtown area I work in. And I offer reduced rates based on student status and income. Yes, therapy is an investment. But there should be a return on the investment when good service is provided. And it should be affordable!!! You just can’t charge low to middle SES $100 an hour and they have no insurance! That is ridiculous! So what I have to carry a few more cases to support my own livelihood. The extra services I’m able to provide at an affordable price is worth the extra work. Anyway, mental health is important. More multicultural competent providers are needed. But specifically more Black providers are needed to meet the needs of our community directly with a special type of care and understanding.” – A. Norman
Many black persons feel that religion and prayer is a substitute or alternative to going to therapy. Many Christians and religious persons believe that faith and God is the answer to every ailment and problem in their life. While this holds true for most, some are not as lucky to get their illnesses healed and need a little more push in the right direction from a trained professional.
Times are becoming increasing hard and with the rise in the cost of living as well as the amount of money remaining after paying bills, therapy is not a priority for most. To make matter worse, black persons are less likely to have insurance which covers the cost of therapy sessions.
With all these reasons hindering the probability of the black community giving therapy a chance, we need to remember that mental health is just as important as physical health. Not saying that we must go to therapy every day, but start going once every two months and you will see how much it benefits you in the long run.
By Alexandra Daley