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Why African-American Folks Should Seek Psychotherapy

Despite many significant positive changes in the United States regarding civil rights and its affirmative impact on the African-American community including improvements in education, housing, and employment, the African-America community continues to experience greater stressors compared to other groups due to racism, prejudice, lack of access to health care, and economic disparities.  Yet, as a group, African-American people are less likely to seek out professional mental health services. 

According to a HuffPost article by Nia Hamm, “Mental health is a taboo subject in the African-American community, black people, and specifically black women, are not only one of the least likely group to be treated or to seek treatment for depression, they’re also less likely than other groups to even acknowledge it as a serious problem because of the shame and embarrassment that it can cause.”  And when African-American people do seek out help, they are likely to turn to a trusted person in their community, such as a minister, friend, or family member. 

Typically, African-American people see mental health problems as a “their” problem, that is, a problem white people experience, and not an “our” problem, that is, a problem for people in our own community.  This perception only stigmatizes those who are suffering, and may force them to suffer in silence.  In addition, it is not uncommon in our community for people to fear that, if they seek professional mental health services, the mental health provider will not look like them, understand their culture, or be able to relate to their economic realities.  They may think, “I cannot trust someone who does not look like me, or someone who I think does not understand my community, my needs or the realities and struggles of my daily life.”

According to the US Health & Human Service Office of Minority Health:

  • African-American adults are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites
  • African-American people are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult whiles.
  • African-American people are less likely than whites to die from suicide as teenagers, but are more likely to attempt suicide than white teenagers.
  • African-American people of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crimes, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • African-American people are also twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.

It is no surprise to African-Americans that it is hard to live as a person of color in America.  Despite the numerous social and civil rights advancements of the last 50-plus years, African-Americans continue to deal with a great number of daily stressors because of the circumstances described above.  These very real daily stressors have a negative impact on African-Americans’ mental well-being, which increases the likelihood of serious mental health illnesses like major depression and anxiety, and marital and child-rearing problems.  The stigma of mental illness and the negative perception of those seeking mental health assistance prevent many from entering psychotherapy. Hopefully, the African-American community will soon realize there is no shame in seeking psychotherapy, especially in light of the  greater daily stressors with which we struggle more than our counterparts in other communities.  I hope that, as an African-American psychotherapist, I can start to make psychotherapy more accessible and a viable option to many in the community.

Summer 2018

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