Black ExperienceHealthStacy M. Brown

Mental Health Stigma Still Affecting African Americans

African Americans are no different when it comes to the prevalence of mental health conditions when compared to the rest of the population, but there are differences when it comes to mental health and the Black community, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

For example, African Americans are much more likely to face violent crime than White Americans.

This increases susceptibility to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is one of the most common mental health concerns among all races and ethnic groups, according to a report by the Therapy Group DC.

“This confluence of the increased likelihood of experiencing violence due to one’s race and mental health struggles, as a result, is a starting point for a broader discussion. It speaks to the role of life experiences, culture, and overt and institutional racism and its impact on mental health in the Black Community,” the Therapy Group DC reported.

According to NAMI , mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the United States, specifically major depressive disorder

Historically, the idea of psychotherapy has been difficult for African Americans, said Dr. Viola Drancoli, a licensed clinical psychologist who wrote a master thesis about the barriers to seeking mental health services in ethnic minority communities.

“It is not only a concept with European origin, but also a concept that does not fit the community-oriented, collective approach to healing and support that has been so helpful to this population,” Drancoli said.

“Instead of finding healing in coming together, the client is separated, often sitting in a one-on-one session with a professional. The idea of being focused on, analyzed, can be perceived as threatening,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health says poverty level affects mental health status and African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are three times more likely to report psychological distress.

Further, African Americans are 10 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic whites and the death rate from suicide for African American men was more than four times greater than for African American women, in 2014.

A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 to 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233 percent, as compared to 120 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Yet, experts said even as the conversation around mental health has grown significantly with celebrities and others in the spotlight sharing their stories, African Americans still mostly refrain from seeking help.

“Unfortunately, among African Americans it remains taboo to talk about and one reason is the fear of being labeled as crazy,” said Arron Muller, a licensed social worker.

“The intense fear of being judged has been a huge deterrent,” Muller said.

“In the African American community there is also an association that mental illness means weakness and the inability to handle your problems on your own or that anxiety or depressive symptoms should be addressed with praying and fasting,” he said.

Earlier this year, Science Magazine reported that the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, a nonprofit housed at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, announced a new neuroscience research initiative that aims to tackle a gaping hole in medicine: the interplay between brain diseases and their genomic drivers among African-Americans.

Reportedly, the goal is to better understand how brain diseases play out in this population, which has been profoundly underrepresented in neuroscience research.

To build trust among African-Americans and eventually beyond, the venture includes a partnership with the African-American Clergy Medical Research Initiative, a group of clergy leaders in the city.

It’s an important development by numerous standards, according to educator and life coach Elaine Taylor-Klaus.

“In all aspects of life, the African American community has had to appear better than the average person just to be seen as good enough,” Taylor-Klaus said.

“African American families have long been conscious of a need to dress their kids a little nicer in public, to expect their kids to behave more respectfully in public, and to follow directions immediately,” Taylor-Klaus said.

“The implications for the adults when kids don’t behave has been a risk-factor — when an ‘uppity’ child acts out, an African American adult can get in serious, life-threatening trouble. It’s not reasonable — but it’s a reality of African American life in the United States,” she said.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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