By Dr. Sharice Bradford Bronzeville Life Contributor
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This month of observance was created by the organization Mental Health America and has been observed since 1949. Since it’s inception, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed through media campaigns, social media, film and mental health screenings and local events. For 2022, Mental Health America is utilizing the theme “Back to Basics”.
‘Back to Basics’ may not be the best theme to use in the African American community. African Americans and the mental health industry have not always had the best relationship. There are many reasons attributed to this fact. Research demonstrates that stigma and judgment have prevented African Americans from seeking mental health services. Another reason is that many African Americans believe that there would be negative connotations within their families and social circles. There is also the belief that coming forward or having discussion about mental illness is frowned upon, in general, in the African American community.
Statistics show that there are over 7 million African Americans or 16% of the African American population in the United States that report having a mental illness. The rates of mental illness have grown in the African American community since 2008, and the impact of COVID is contributing to the continued increase in those numbers. Currently, 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness. According to experts, American Americans are more likely to have feelings of unhappiness, hopelessness and insignificance than whites. With this information in mind, it is important to note that African Americans attend therapy at a rate of 28% less than whites. It is also noted that African Americans are offered medication or therapy at lower rates than the general population.
While many reasons can be attributed to the disparities in treatment, and there are many studies on the disproportionate treatment of African Americans in the health care industry, there are less than 2% of mental health practitioners in the American Psychological Association. The cultural competence of mental health practitioners can play a major role in the reasons why African Americans are not attending therapy or are even offered therapy or medication for their mental health needs. Lack of cultural competence can also detract African Americans from seeking therapy due patients thinking that practitioners are not culturally competent enough to treat their needs.
So ‘Back to Basics’, may not be the best way to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month for African Americans. There is still a lot of work to be done to diagnose, treat and if necessary, medicate African Americans when it comes to issues of mental health. However, while to work is being done, behind the scenes, there are some benefits and tools that are at the disposal of African Americans who find themselves in need of Mental Health treatment and management. Here are a few to check out:
BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective): https://beam.community
The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation: https://borislhentonfoundation.org
Therapy for Black Girls: https://therapyforblackgirls.com/
Therapy for Black Men: https://therapyforblackmen.org/
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness): https://nami.org
While there is still much work to be done, there are still many individuals and organizations on the forefront to make sure that African American mental health and wellness receives the attention it deserves. Currently, especially due to the COVID pandemic, many organizations are offering free, reduced cost or sliding scale services as well as sourcing more culturally competent providers. With this information in mind, we collectively can work to erase the stigma of mental illness in the African American community. Not just in the month of May but all year long.
The cultural competence of mental health practitioners can play a major role in the reasons why African Americans are not attending therapy or are even offered therapy or medication for their mental health needs. (Image courtesy of Pixels)