PERSPECTIVE — The Stigma Around Mental Health in the Black Community
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PERSPECTIVE — The Stigma Around Mental Health in the Black Community

By Rebecca Johnson, Contributing Writer
Posted 12:40 PM EST, Mon., Feb. 27, 2017

There is a widespread misconception within the Black community that attending therapy is a sign of weakness or lack of faith. Last week, I fell victim to that notion.  

I sought out psychotherapy as my last option. Before I reached that point, I had done everything I was taught to do when I am feeling “blue.” I went to church, I prayed, I read countless self- help blogs, but nothing worked. So, I called my mom and she told me to pray about it, which made me feel hopeless because I felt like I was all prayed out. It was not until I talked to my one of my friends who I know had dealt with the same situation when I thought about therapy. After some critical reflection, I realized that was my best option.

Last Friday, I sat in the waiting room of the student counseling center while I waited for my name to be called. I sat in the chair closest to the wall, sunken in my chair with my hat pulled down so that my face was barely visible and I buried the visible part of my face in my phone. Whenever someone entered, I would shift a little so my back was to the door. I felt embarrassed for seeking the professional help I knew was long overdue.

Why was I so ashamed? I knew I needed professional help, but all my life as a Black woman I had been taught that I just had to stay strong and pray. I am not alone in this misconception. A qualitative study published in the Journal of Healthcare for the Poor and Underserved found that among Black people who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles.  The study also showed that over one fourth of said consumers thought talking about mental illness within their families would be inappropriate.

While Black people are more likely than white people to experience mental illnesses, we seek professional help at much lower rates. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. It is more common for Black people to experience severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder due to systematic factors and being more likely to be exposed to violence.

Black people are hurting and we need help. Although more African Americans are seeking help for mental ailments, the stigma is still there.

February 27, 2017

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