Mental Health in the Black Community

William Lawson­: “Dr. Satcher in his surgeon general’s report noted that there was less accessibility of mental health services for people of color for a variety of reasons. Part of it is that many of the systems simply aren’t located proximity to where people of color are. Part of it is that many professionals simply don’t know how to diagnose properly African-Americans.

Many African-Americans have a lot of negative feelings about, or not even aware of mental health services. They may not be aware of the symptoms of many mental disorders, or they may believe that to be mentally ill is a sign of weakness or a sign of a character fault.”

Mental health is scary to many as it’s part of the unknown. Mental illness is the broad term under which many disorders and psychological issues fit under. To have a mental disorder is not the person’s fault, but there is a stigma surrounding it. These people often are labeled without being heard first, and they struggle to gain adequate education or occupation. In turn, this leads to many people with mental health to be put in state custody, either in hospitals or in jails. However, not all people with mental illness are incapable of living a life similar to ours. But in order to allow for this to thrive, there needs to be the deterioration of the stigma that weighs them down. My goal is to highlight this within the black community.

Depression is one of the leading cause of disabilities, and other disorders are increasing in numbers as well. But at the same time, many black people don’t recognize depression as a formal disorder. Black people are less likely to formally acknowledge mental health issues as such, and usually pin the issues on childhood discipline, or the desire to gain attention. This is not due to malice, but rather a lack of attention and proper education. Black people are less likely to go and get formal help for mental problems, thinking they can shrug it off and be okay.

Of course, it would call attention to raise awareness in the black community, but we also need to understand why these obstacles are in place. Namely, the myth of the superhuman black person. This myth dates all the way back to the 1600s, when black people had begun to be utilized at servants in the English colonies. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers, was found to be quite racist, and amongst the things he said, this was also put forth by him: “Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.

White supremacy, in order to justify the unjust enslaving of African people and Native Americans, while also saying  that they faced slavery under the rule of Britain, used the idea that blacks could stay awake longer, felt less, and could endure near impossible feats to explain why slavery was their doctrine. Mental illness affects this country in aa plethora of ways. In the United States, 40,000,000 adults suffer from mental health issues. 350,000,000 people worldwide are affected by depression. So you or someone you know may have a mental health issue without even knowing it.

The stigma of mental health is very visible in the public, but even more so in the black community. Mental health is often something that is used against families. Back in the day to even today, people won’t date people if they  find out someone in their family has a mental disorder. Rather than using that as a disqualifier, understand that many people with mental disorder are able to live lives very similar to us. We do not need to infantilize them, nor do we need to address them through someone close to them. Mental disorders and illnesses are not by choice, but many people believe that it’s their fault, or that they “contracted” it. While we still don’t understand mental illness, we do need to understand that the discrimination of mentally ill people is wrong. In addition, seeing people of color as dirty and untouchable has racist roots, and one should reflect and change their mentality rather than placing the blame on the person.

-JW

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