Growing up I was often surrounded by peers who struggled with their mental health. I talked with friends about their depression and anxiety. They’d express to me how alone they felt and how they felt like they couldn’t tell their families. I was battling with my own mental illness and felt alone in a house full of people. The only difference between my friends and me was that my mom forced me into therapy and got me on medication the first chance she got. At the time, I despised her for it but looking back, I’m truly grateful to have a mom who took my mental health seriously. My friends on the other hand grew up with parents and guardians who believed nothing was wrong with them. They were told they were too young to be depressed and to pray about it. So often in the Black community, I see others downplaying the severity of mental illness. I’ve witnessed suicidal people reaching out for help and others telling them to “stop talking crazy” and to “just pray and it’ll go away”. While there are more people now than ever advocating for mental health, the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community is still prevalent.
Battling Mental Illness
There are so many of us struggling who need real support. We need therapy and possibly medication. Research shows that individuals in the Black community are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues. Yet, admitting you’re struggling and need professional help is still frowned upon. I believe a part of the problem is feelings of shame and embarrassment. People toss around the word crazy when discussing mental illness. Therapy is seen as something that’s out of reach for Black people and taking medication isn’t even looked at as an option. In our community, some of us have a difficult time acknowledging that there is a real problem.
Yes, there are other actions we can take to manage our mental health. Going back to being told to just pray about it, a lot of religious people see God as the ultimate healer. They believe giving your problems to God will fix everything and for many Black families, it’s a preferred coping method. I personally think it’s ok to believe in this but when you’re battling a severe mental disorder, sometimes it’s not enough. The problem comes in when you think simply praying will make your mental illness disappear. Most times, mental illness is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. They are complex conditions which means you need to seek professional help.
We all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Some of us battle with mental health conditions and that’s ok. It’s often viewed as a weakness when in reality it takes a strong individual to get up every day and face the world while silently fighting with their mental health.
Making Treatment Accessible
We can’t talk about seeking treatment without acknowledging that for many treatment isn’t an option because it’s not affordable. Access to good quality mental health treatment is a privilege that isn’t attainable for some. Seeing a psychiatrist or a therapist can be costly and once you add prescription medication into the mix, you’re looking at spending hundreds of dollars on something that should be affordable. The reality is not everyone has insurance or the funds to cover appointments and medication which leads to people not seeking help when they’re in need. There are certain programs that are geared towards helping those who can’t afford therapy.
Lack of Providers of Color
I can count on one hand how many Black therapists and psychiatrists I’ve had. Most of my therapists and doctors have been white. The lack of Black mental health providers can feel threatening to Black people. We want someone who is culturally competent and is capable of understanding us when we bring up certain issues at appointments.
Searching for a therapist and not coming across any that look like you could make you believe that therapy might not be for you.
Finding A Therapist That’s Right for You
There are more and more resources popping up online that allow you to connect with therapists of color. The best thing to do when searching for a therapist is to contact them or the office they work at with any questions or concerns you have. You’ll be able to get a feel on whether or not they’re a good fit for you. Of course, sometimes we don’t know something or someone isn’t for us until we’re already in the midst of it. In that case, it’s ok to stop seeing that particular therapist. Something else I recommend is making a list of your symptoms. Certain therapists specialize in specific areas, once you give them an idea of what you’re dealing with, they’ll be able to tell you if they can help.
If you’re struggling, know that there is nothing wrong with reaching out for help. Therapy isn’t for the weak and taking medication doesn’t mean you’re crazy. You are worthy of having a healthy mind and being able to live a joyful life.