Health

For Black Men, Mental Health Breakthroughs Include Overcoming Therapy’s Stigma

Self-care has become a buzzword lately, but what does that truly mean? It can mean many things and with this broad understanding of self-care, it allows people to be open with themselves about what they need to do to make sure they are the best version of themselves.

Addressing mental health in the Black community can mean overcoming a stigma of weakness at times.

“Psychology or therapy for a lot of people is a scary word,” said Dr. Phillip Graham, a D.C.-area psychotherapist who specializes in treating Black men.  “The conversation has picked up globally and [we] are de-stigmatizing mental health and therapy and we want to put ourselves in a position where we can provide some insight as Black therapists.”

Graham explained how at times there is widespread misunderstanding about the nature of mental patients and how therapists address patients’ problems. The stigma surrounding mental health he says is the perception that one has to be “crazy” or have a severe mental health disorder and that is not necessarily always the case.

“Sometimes life is just stressful and trying to learn how to work through anxiety and stress and talking to somebody that has an objective opinion about how what you’re experiencing and how you’re experiencing [it] and putting it into words where you can understand to process and do the work yourself,” Graham said.

Mental health and how it looks in people can differ depending on socioeconomic status. Sometimes people don’t see the signs of someone’s depression or whatever they are going through because it is hidden. Symptoms of depression vary, Graham said, noting that for some patients the manifestation of those   symptoms are masked by socioeconomic status can affect mental health status. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, “Black or African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress.”

Identity can be an important factor for those seeking therapists and Graham says that it has helped him connect to some of his patients because there is a cultural understanding without further explanation.

“It makes it easier for men to talk to me because I understand what it’s like to be a man and to be a Black man [and] to be a Black man growing up in a religious environment and a community that doesn’t necessarily encourage therapy,” he said.

Graham said that there is a lot of intergenerational trauma that was yet to be addressed and that current generations are still dealing with the impact of that trauma. He also stated that Black men should be included more in understanding mental health because there can be disparities when understanding when they are experiencing mental health issues.

 “If we had a better understanding, a better access to mental health, we may be able to avoid and alleviate some of the more severe problems or consequences,” Graham said. 

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