“African American adults are 20% more likely to report psychological distress than White adults,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Institute of Health (NIH). Racism, lack of equal opportunity, and overall injustice can take a toll on a person’s mental health, and adequate treatment is even more difficult to find among Black communities. Only one third of Black adults experiencing mental health symptoms are able to attain mental health care. Stigma, socioeconomic disparities, discrimination, and lack of cultural awareness are all contributing factors to this statistic.
Stigma around mental health pervades throughout the U.S., but is particularly prevalent in Black communities. According to a recent study, “63% of Black people believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness.” Mental health is a difficult topic to discuss for many members of Black communities. Religion and spirituality are sometimes used to treat mental illness, instead of professional care. Communities of faith and spiritual leaders can certainly help an individual cope with symptoms of mental illness, but usually are not enough. In cases of severe mental illness especially, professional treatment is essential.
Many people of color in the U.S. do not have health insurance and cannot afford the high costs of treatment. According to NAMI, “In 2018, 11.5% of Black adults in the U.S. had no form of health insurance.” Costs aside, there may not be as many accessible mental health resources available.
Discrimination and lack of cultural awareness
The health care system as a whole has historically been difficult to navigate for any person of color. Provider bias, both conscious and subconscious, can impact a healthcare professional's decision to take on a person of color as a client. Many organizations are working to address this bias, informing providers about their subconscious tendencies, and helping them override instances of implicit racism.
Lack of cultural knowledge among providers can also form a barrier against Black people receiving proper care. A study in 2017 found that only 4.9% of psychologists in the U.S. identified as Black. It is important for clients to feel understood by their clinicians, and the impacts of race can make it difficult for a White clinician to fully understand the experience of their Black clients. Multicultural counseling is a growing practice, training clinicians to better understand the perspectives of different races and ethnicities. There are also many pre-existing resources to help Black people search for quality mental health care.
The quest for adequate care
When a person experiences symptoms of mental illness, it is very important they receive quality treatment that takes into account the person’s cultural background. Self care practices and community engagement can certainly help, but professional treatment may still be necessary. Referrals from primary care physicians, or trusted community members, such as a religious or spiritual leader, can also assist in the search for mental health care.
Here are some other helpful resources for Black people seeking mental health care:
Group aimed at removing the barriers that Black people experience getting access to or staying connected with emotional health care and healing. They do this through education, training, advocacy and the creative arts.
Limited and selective free mental health service opportunities for Black men.
Black Mental Health Alliance — (410) 338-2642
Provides information and resources and a “Find a Therapist” locator to connect with a culturally competent mental health professional.
Provides access to evidence-based information and resources about mental health and behavioral health topics from a Black perspective, as well as training opportunities for students and professionals.
Organization advancing health equity and social justice for Black women through policy, advocacy, education, research and leadership development.
List of Black-owned and focused mental health resources by state as compiled by Ebony magazine.
Connects individuals with culturally competent clinicians committed to serving the mental health needs of Black & Latinx/Hispanic communities. Promotes the growth and healing of diverse communities through its website, online directory and events.
Online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls. Offers listing of mental health professionals across the country who provide high quality, culturally competent services to Black women and girls, an informational podcast and an online support community.
Online community for Black women to seek support.