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Mental Health Challenges Facing African Americans


Sheinelle had a tough year. Her mother had recently passed away and her son had a four-month long battle with his own health following an aneurysm. Medical bills were mounting up, her rent was increasing, and she needed her own medical procedure to replace her left hip.

The stress was overwhelming and crushing her spirit.

Sheinelle found herself despondent, struggling to manage daily tasks and seeking comfort from alcohol more and more often to numb the pain.

After witnessing an emotional breakdown one evening, her best friend, Diana, suggested she consider speaking with a mental health professional.

Sheinelle could not imagine how she could afford that on top of everything else, much less what people might think.

What Are the Barriers to Care?

According to the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, less than half of all Americans with a mental disorder get the treatment they need. African Americans among that same group seek help half as often as their white counterparts.

Social and physical circumstances can easily contribute to developing a mental illness or trigger a pre-existing one. Unfortunately, the Black community is more likely to experience economic distress, racism, and lack of access to all forms of healthcare — all of which can prevent treatment.

“Statistically, Black people seek out mental health treatment at a rate of about 25% compared to other ethnicities,” says Dr. Tanika S. Williams, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner with Elite DNA Behavioral Health. “We find that’s largely due to stigma. Black people in general have a unique set of cultural, historical, and socioeconomic factors that perpetuate the stigma.”

Access to treatment for emergent psychological challenges can be especially difficult for African Americans for these reasons:

  • Less likely to have health insurance.
  • Less likely to receive an accurate mental health diagnosis, and for those diagnosed with depression, less likely to receive treatment.
  • Cultural mistrust of mental health professionals and healthcare professionals.
  • Fewer African American mental health professionals.
  • Cultural stigma around mental health as a personal weakness.
  • Historical stigma around help centered solely within the faith community.

“Fortunately, in the last two to three years, I’ve seen this changing through education, improvement in access to care, and more diversity among mental health specialists.” adds Williams.

Battling the Stigmas Around Mental Healthcare

In Sheinelle’s case, her best friend not only recommended she seek mental health treatment, but she confided her own experience with depression. Diana shared how she obtained care, how she paid for it and — most importantly — how mental health care improved her daily life.

“Speak up about what’s going on around you or your own personal experience,” encourages Williams. “Word of mouth is definitely a way to help others. This is the best way we can speak out against the stigma and dispel preconceived notions about mental health and mental health treatment.”

Other ways friends and family can provide cultural support include:

  • Be supportive when mental health treatment is needed.
  • Help educate each other about mental health options.
  • Provide resource information to local faith-based organizations.
  • Help research African American providers in your area or consider telehealth options.
  • Offer transportation or share a carpool with someone seeking care.
  • Help research insurance options.

How Do Faith-Based Organizations Play a Role?

Local churches and other faith-based organizations influence the Black community and play a significant role in access to mental health treatment.

“For a long time, our faith and our church were the only outlets to heal spiritually, mentally — and physically for that matter,” notes Williams. “That’s not a bad thing but can be a hindrance if that is seen as the only source of help.”

Williams goes on to say mental health clinicians are recognizing the need to integrate faith into their treatment plans. In that way, African Americans no longer must see the need to make a choice between mental health care and spiritual care.

“We can work together with faith-based organizations to help bridge the gap,” adds Williams.

Finding a Mental Health Professional

Access to care is improving. While minorities are less likely to have insurance, more affordable options are available in recent years.

If employed, it’s important to check your health insurance plan each year. Thanks to increased awareness, many health plans have added or increased coverage for mental health treatment.

In addition, many providers now accept Medicare and Medicaid. (At Elite DNA, we accept both, and a variety of insurance plans.)

Not only are there better options for financing care, but there is a significant increase in the number of Black professionals trained to provide quality care.

Finding a mental health provider you can trust might include:

  • Ask your primary care physician for a referral. They know you, your specific needs and the community.
  • Research providers through trusted online sources like Psychology Today or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
  • Ask your church if they can make a recommendation. Don’t be afraid to seek help from your faith leaders. They care about your total well-being.

At Elite DNA, our licensed mental and behavioral health professionals can help.

Our culturally diverse team is ready to assist your emotional health. Whether you prefer a face-to-face session at one of our many locations or the convenience of a telehealth consultation via Zoom, we are here to make a difference.

Prioritizing mental health care needs to be valued in the same way as you value putting groceries on the table.

Find a local trusted mental health provider now and start your personalized journey to a happier, healthier you.

The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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