Why is Mental Illness Such a Taboo in the Black Community?

-The Weekly Challenger

The epidemic of mental health in minority communities is a serious problem we cannot continue to ignore. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s time we shed light on the often shaded subject of Mental Illness within the African American community. The topic of mental health is largely absent from discourse in the black community. It is not a topic that is talked about among friends or family, largely as a result of the stigmas associated with mental illness in the black community.

Statistics show that 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, and African-Americans are no exception to the rule. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Services, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious psychological distress, such as major depression, suicide, PTSD, and anxiety than non-Hispanic whites.

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We often suppress the pain and emotional instability because mental health awareness tends to be a taboo. However, mental illness is a disease that affects all people, indiscriminate of race or ethnicity. In fact, mental health conditions are as prevalent in the black community as they are in any other.

So, why are African Americans less likely to receive help for such a common psychological disorder?

One of stigmas surrounding mental illness in the black community is that when we choose to seek professional help, such as a therapist, it becomes a sign of WEAKNESS.

“The image is put out there that we can deal with everything,” said Carolyn Coleridge, a Kaiser Permanente therapist who oversees several black women community groups. “That’s historical. This goes way back to slavery.

– Dr. Carolyn Coleridge, Kaiser Permanente

“It’s one of the reasons that black men and women don’t seek out professional help,” she added. “We have to keep up appearances of being more than capable because we’re existing in a world that already perceives us as being less than.”

– Dr. Carolyn Coleridge, Kaiser Permanente

According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness, another stigma surrounding mental illness is the fear of being titled CRAZY.

From the words we use—like “crazy,” “cray cray,” “psycho,” “nuts”—to hurtful jokes about people who live with mental health conditions, stigma surrounding mental health in African American culture is deep-rooted. But there is no shame in having a mental health condition. The true shame is not getting the treatment you need to have a good life.

– The National Alliance on Mental Illness

It’s important to know a mental health condition is no different than a physical one. Our brains are the most important organ in our bodies and can get sick just like our hearts, lungs and livers. Not only that, you can recover from a mental health condition and lead a healthy life.

– The National Alliance on Mental Illness

Getting rid of the barriers that stigmatize therapy in the African-American community is not going to be easy. It’s imperative to start the conversation regarding mental health within our communities in order to evolve in a culture that perpetuates the myth that prioritizing mental health is a sign of weakness. I encourage you to stop suppressing your state of emotions and get the help you need.

Proverbs 19:20-21 “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end. There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”

West Angeles Church has created a Counseling Center that works to support a healthy and balanced well-being. We offer Christ-centered counseling that provides a support for mental illness. If you or someone you know, suffers from mental illness and is in need of help, please contact The West Angeles Church Counseling Center.