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The Mental Health Community is Failing the Black Community - We Simply Must Do More To Save Black Lives
Our gratitude to our guest writers, Patricia Hanson, en route to a PhD in School Psychology, and Nia Jones, en route to an MA in Counseling Psychology and the New Programs and Volunteer Manager for Hope Xchange, for today’s article on why those in the black community who are struggling with mental health issues are not reaching out for help and what can be done. Yesterday’s post is one account of why and today’s is another, a deeply-moving perspective from those living within in the community.
Let Us Start With Historical Community Values
Since the beginning of time, blacks have had to be strong and resilient. Stigma exists within the community because throughout history blacks have taken pride in overcoming any and everything thrown our way.
Slaves did not have therapists or SSRIs. During slavery, we could not show our weakness in any way. We had to hold onto strength in the face of adversity. We could not afford to stick out like a sore thumb. Civil rights activists were not able to go seek counseling when faced with anxiety about their next protest, and blacks today are almost never referred to as mentally ill in the media.
Today, Nothing Has Changed. When Someone in Our Community is Shot, We Are Expected to Maintain Our Cool.
Today is not much different. When our friend, sister, or father is shot by a police officer, we are taught to not lose our control and remain “respectful.” Talking about personal problems with a therapist can be equivalent to airing one’s dirty laundry, equally undesirable within our community. This also can reflect a culture of failure of the family to handle such issues.
Minimal Representation of Blacks in Mental Health Field
What do Sigmund Freud, Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, and Jean Piaget all have in common? Or a better question, what do they have in common with blacks? Nothing.
Psychology is a field started by white men that has been maintained by middle class white society. Only two percent of the American Psychological Association is black. Blacks have little to no representation in the field of psychology, so why would blacks be running to a therapist when they’re experiencing symptoms of depression?
Not only do blacks have negative stigma against mental illness, but we live in a society where blacks are almost never given the excuse of being depressed or having anxiety. Instead we are labeled as “thugs”. Blacks have never had the luxury of their actions being excused by mental illness.
Therapists Not Equipped to Deal with Black Patients - Racism and Microagressions
When blacks do select mental health services, they are more likely than whites to drop-out of treatment after the first session. They are more likely than whites to receive poor treatment from therapists and rate overall dissatisfaction with the care they receive.
Think for a second, when you imagine a typical therapist, what do you picture? Studies have shown it is a white male or female who is insensitive to challenges facing blacks in America. Furthermore, studies have actually found that psychologists tend to struggle with when and how to address the ways in which race, ethnicity and culture affect attitudes towards mental health treatment.
This lack of understanding and ignorance then leads to racism and microaggressions from therapists — and microaggressions are dangerous. Our society tends to promote a colorblind ideology, the idea that you do not “see” race and therefore do not include it in treatment. This is a real life example of a harmful microaggression.
You Are Born Into a Life Where Odds Are Stacked Against You. How Do We Save Ourselves?
On The Breakfast Club radio interview, Dr. Umar Johnson proclaimed, “Black America is the richest black nation on earth, we have the ability to save ourselves, we’re all we need, but we choose not to!” Choose not to? The fact is blacks have always been systematically oppressed.
Let us paint a picture for you — you are a young black male in the inner city. You were born into a lower class family with no father and a mother who works multiple jobs. You go to a city school that lacks the basic resources to teach and are faced with violence both inside and outside of school. The only steady meal you receive is a free lunch at school as you and your siblings skip meals often. You witness drug deals and gun violence daily.
Young black children are malnourished and subjected to harmful environments that result in learning disabilities, making school extremely aversive and almost impossible. Life stressors add to this as lower income schools do not have the means to adequately help these children and these are the students who are overlooked and often drop out and/or become incarcerated.
No one has a college education and most young men do not live to see 25. Your school is not focused on college prep. Rather, they are focused on you living to get your diploma. College is unrealistic because no one in your family or neighborhood has ever been to college.
We are so tired of rich black people or the select few who “made it out of the ghetto” looking down on those who did not. The odds are almost always against black people and unless you come from money or get lucky along the way, your future is not so bright.
The people who make the most money are those who deal drugs. Working a minimum wage job is not enough to help your mother, but dealing drugs could pay the rent and all of the bills. Please tell us, where is the ability is to save yourself?
So, How Do We Get By? Can You Blame Those Who Don’t?
Blacks are more likely to turn to their family members and churches for support with mental health and life issues. Faith has a long history within the black community. During slavery, the church served as the center of the collective community for blacks. Churches offered institutional support, stability, and the comfort of salvation to slaves. The church remains an important part of life for blacks today and are often the first line of help.
Or, we don’t get by. We fall into the traps of the hood. We drink and drug ourselves to cover the pain. We lose many to gun violence. We lose people to suicide attempts, and the success rate is high.
Black people reading this, we want you to understand that we are allowed to feel this way. We are allowed to be depressed or angry, but we need to start talking more.
Our Personal Message to the White Community
White people reading this, we need to be invited into the conversation. We need you to stop invalidating us and denying our experiences. Primary schools and universities, we challenge you to incorporate more cultural competency classes in the required curriculum.
We don’t choose this life. For a lot of people, this is what they are born into — born behind the eight-ball. Instead of blaming blacks for their downfall, more people need to understand that the deck is stacked against them from the beginning. Instead of looking down on black children, we need you to reach down and lend a hand to lift them up with understanding and compassion.
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