The Intersectionality Between Race & Mental Health
There’s no doubt that there is significant stigma around mental health care and disparities around care in the Black community. Due to the stigma and lack of Black history curriculum, as a child, I do not remember hearing much about mental health care or engaging in many conversations regarding Black history. As a Black mental health therapist, I now value educating my community in mental health care and Black history. An effective way to destigmatize mental health is having conversations. Awareness helps normalize the topic and helps remove the shame that individuals often experience.
When I decided to further my education in mental health, my father did not fully understand why I would choose this path. His understanding of the effectiveness of therapy was limited. He said, “people should keep private matters private and talk with family or friends,” he asked, “shouldn’t they speak to their pastor or spiritual leader instead?” and, “are strangers seriously going to trust you with their issues?”. See, my father was born and raised in North Carolina in the 1940s and had endured his fair share of life struggles and emotional turmoil brought on by systemic injustices. He was also a Black man who had served in the military and fought in the Vietnam War in 1968. My father was among the 63% of Black people who believe that mental health conditions are a sign of personal weakness. His resilience had taught him that there was no room for vulnerability.
In early 2021 I had the opportunity to sit down and interview my parents. I captured details of their life experiences and our family’s history. This moment opened up the door for me to have deeper and more meaningful conversations with my dad about his emotional experiences as a Black man in America & his mental health as Vietnam War Veteran. We discussed multigenerational trauma, his psychological distresses, and the barriers that kept him from seeking help. These conversations opened the door for my father to ultimately realize that he had possibly been struggling for years with depression & post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). And before his passing, he asked me to assist with connecting him with a therapist to help begin processing his emotions and experiences.
This encounter with my father has given me an even deeper desire to help individuals and communities overcome barriers, navigate cultural stigmas, and create safe spaces for healing. Statistics tell us that about 25% of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of White individuals. Barriers to mental health include socioeconomic disparities, lack of trust, fear of stigmatization, and lack of culturally competent providers.
2022’s Black History Month’s theme is Black Health & Wellness. One may ask, how can I promote and improve my wellness. Awareness is key! This month (and year-round), I encourage individuals to recognize symptoms, connect with the community, engage in mindfulness, rest, and cultivate Black joy! Carter G. Woodson, known as the “father of Black history,” recognized the importance of remembering & celebrating. Black History isn’t just about acknowledging the past but a responsibility to our future. Let’s continue having conversations & bringing awareness to Black mental health, wellness, and healing.