BIPOC MENTAL HEALTH BLOG By Catalyst Center. Program Analyst, Tamara Fleming

July 25, 2022


By Tamara Fleming

Mental health in the Black community is largely considered a “taboo” topic. Addressing mental health issues is often viewed as an admission of weakness and vulnerability, a myth that many in non-white communities perpetuate for different reasons. As a young Black girl, I recall being taught that you pray your troubles away, sweep them under an invisible rug, and keep your business to yourself (or at least in the household). The unspoken rule was, whatever issues happened in our house, needed to stay in the house. Reflecting on the effect these messages had on me took me on an unintended journey of self-actualization. On this journey, I had to acknowledge as an adult that my fears of appearing vulnerable and weak were directly related to my upbringing. My story is one that is all too often played out in many households in the Black community, thus the resistance to addressing mental health related issues.

The Black community is not the only group that struggles with acknowledging and addressing mental health needs. There are other communities who view mental illness as shameful and weak, as well. During my time as a Social Worker, I encountered similar responses to addressing mental health from other youth and families of color as I had grown accustomed to in my community. For example, a Latinx mother discussed with me at length that her resistance to seeing a counselor was due to feelings of embarrassment for wanting to get mental health treatment. The mother explained that her parents would be ashamed of her and she did not want this result. Another mother, of Pacific Island descent, admitted to avoiding contacting her assigned therapist because she did not want to share her personal information with a stranger. She also shared having feelings of embarrassment that were rooted in her upbringing.

In addition to cultural issues with discussing mental health, people of color also disproportionately face having a lack of access to healthcare. Unfortunately, the trickle-down effect that this lack of access creates can be seen in the prison population, child welfare systems and with homelessness, as people of color are overrepresented in each. Studies have found that a lack of access to healthcare services Is associated with socioeconomic factors such as low income, low education, and justice system inequalities. Communities of color have higher rates of poverty, low education and imprisonment and are thus at a greater likelihood of being uninsured. These factors also contribute to the mental health crisis in these communities.

In recent years, there has been a push by some in the Black community to debunk the mental health myths that have stagnated progress in this area. There is a push for recruiting more Black therapists, a renewed focus on having events that center on removing the stigma, and a push for more members of the Black community sharing stories of success with therapy. In my opinion, this is welcome, however long overdue. There have been generations of people of color who have struggled internally with mental health finding no relief. In highlighting recent efforts, there must also be a push to extinguish the layers of societal issues which have contributed to this reality. Many in marginalized communities have felt that constructing a mental health wall of defense is more about surviving societal issues rather than denying issues with mental health. In essence, trading one struggle for another. No one should have to choose.

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