Systemic and community barriers contribute to making Black people 20% more likely to present mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Because of mistrust of medical and mental health providers, Black people are less likely to access mental health resources available to them. The history of abuse in healthcare systems harms the stigma of mental health and adds to the barriers. But in recent years there has been a new wave of normalising mental health issues. This new wave has opened opportunities for resources that increase racial representation and reduce stigma.
With the recent loss of Black celebrity and dancer Stephen “Twitch” Boss, there has been an increase on social media about the issue the silence of mental health issues. Black men, in particular, are more at risk for suicidality and not accessing mental health resources. But why do these stigmas exist? One of the reasons, according to the CME Institute is the conversation in Black culture.
The mistrust of the mental health community from past historical abuses still exists, on top of the perception of the use of medication for mental health disorders. There is a common misperception that psychotropic medication can lead to addiction and drug abuse, which is also tied to a history of medical abuse that victimised Black people.
Additionally, stigma has to do with the perception of having mental health struggles. Does having a diagnosis mean that something is “wrong” with you inherently? Is this an indication that something could have been prevented to make a person “normal? With these questions, it’s hard to move past the concern that going to seek mental health help doesn’t mean that a person has problems. The fact is that mental health support actually helps you heal and enhances your quality of life. The last concern is the biggest. Will my therapist look like me? Some may ask why this is a concern. But research shows that racial representation significantly reduces anxiety about seeking mental health help. Having a Black therapist can help keep an individual in therapy simply due to the fact that they feel comfortable and that their therapist may understand some of their struggles. Now, advocates are addressing these concerns and working toward providing a solution.
Mental health providers of colour and Black celebrities have created new education on the benefits of mental health and initiated new ways to find other providers of colour in areas all over the nation. Therapy for Black Girls is a directory with a listing of Black female therapists and blogs about different mental health issues as a normalization of other Black females moving through everyday life. One celebrity that is changing the perception of mental health is Megan Pete, otherwise known as Megan Thee Stallion. In an interview with actress Taraji P Henson, Megan said: “Therapy wasn’t even presented in the media as something that was good. Now, it’s becoming safe to say, ‘Alright now, there’s a little too much going on. Somebody, help me’”. Her newest website, Bad Bitches Have Bad Days Too, creates tabs of resources for other clinicians and mental health organisations that are committed to supporting the mental health needs of Black individuals. Celebrities like Megan and Taraji are changing the narrative that mental health counselling can be a positive and safe experience.
Actress and mental health advocate Taraji P. Henson created a mental health database in honour of her father, Boris L. Henson. In addition to a directory of therapists who are listed as “culturally competent”, there is an application process and scholarship for low-income individuals needing financial assistance for therapy. Mental health professionals can also access cultural competence training as well as mental health curriculum for youth in schools. These 360-service provisions can bridge the gap between service provider skills and community members in need of support from service providers.
The reduction in the stigma of therapy in the Black community can save lives. Because of the risk factors for the Black community, factors such as racial representation in therapy and celebrity role models normalizing help positively contribute to improving the statistics of mental health disorder risk. With the trajectory of mental health resources, more individuals can develop, maintain, and sustain thriving lives.
Tiffany Wicks, EdD received a doctorate in education from Johns Hopkins University. She conducts independent research about maternal morbidity in marginalised communities.