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Study

Black Mental Health

*trigger warning: suicide, bigotry, & race-based violence*

Overview

While Black and African-American mental health conditions aren’t seen in a significantly larger frequency than their White counterparts, studies have shown that the racism, oppression, and overall dehumanization faced by many Black Americans pay a large role when it comes to their psychological well-being. Furthermore, there is also systematic racism present in many mental health treatment options/resources. Added to the mixture is the heightened stigma in the Black/African-American community. In this post, we will be discussing all three of these factors and how society combats this issue.

Prevalence 

  • African American females, grades 9-12, were 70 percent more likely to attempt suicide in 2017, as compared to non-Hispanic white females of the same age.
  • A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233 percent, as compared to 120 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
  • In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans, ages 15 to 24.
  • Poverty level affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are twice as likely to report psychological distress.
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts are also rising among Black and African American young adults. While still lower than the overall U.S. population aged 18-25, 9.5 percent (439,000) of Black and African American 18-25-year-olds had serious thoughts of suicide in 2018, compared to 6 percent (277,000) in 2008. 3.6 percent (166,000) made a plan in 2018, compared to 2.1 percent (96,000) in 2008, and 2.4 percent (111,000) made an attempt in 2018, compared to 1.5 percent (70,000) in 2008.

*stats taken directly from HHS.gov*

Racism and Mental Health

African Americans still struggle with the implications of the forced removal and displacement from the continent of Africa. It is their displacement in America, and the implications of the African worldview that makes us culturally and psychologically different from our white counterparts. Comparative scientific studies have been used to justify the beliefs of the inferiority and incompetence of the Black race. Because scientific colonialism was used to empower racism and enforce it systematically, forms of racism still exist today and have a grand effect on the psychological well being of African Americans. Buffering methods of racial socialization, racial identity, and public regard will serve as determinants of the levels of psychological distress and mental health issues within the African American community.

The amount of perceived racial discrimination is what triggers symptoms of psychological distress, i.e:

  • Anger, depression confusion and tension were related positively to feeling the need to conform and inversely related to internalization
  • Somatization, anxiety disorder, obsessive- compulsive disorders, and depression among children
  • Low self-esteem and low levels of life satisfaction.

Stigma

Mental illness is a growing problem in America as a whole, but it is exponentially worse in the African American community. Due to lack of understanding, health care provider bias and socioeconomic status, several African-Americans are not receiving the mental health service they deserve.

  • 63 percent of African Americans believe that depression and other mental conditions are a personal weakness, this is significantly higher than the overall survey average of 54 percent.
  • According to Raymond DePaulo, Jr. M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, African-American populations do not have higher rates of depression in the U.S. However, the statistics may be skewed because African Americans are much less likely to report their symptoms of depression.
  • According to Additude, “Evidence shows that people of color — Black and Latino in particular — are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, even though they show symptoms at the same rate as white people. And if they are diagnosed, they aren’t as likely to receive treatment — even though many studies show that it can dramatically help kids and adults manage symptoms.”

Treatment & Lack of Adequate Resources

In a national comorbidity Study, only 16 percent of African Americans with a diagnosable mood disorder saw a mental health specialist, and fewer than one-third consulted a health care provider of any kind. After entering care, African Americans are more likely than whites to terminate prematurely (Sue et al., 1994). In a 1979 study, many black delinquent children referred for psychiatric evaluation to clinics, private psychiatrists and psychologists, and mental hospitals, were dismissed as characterologically impaired in spite of what appeared to the researchers to be clear evidence of psychotic or organic disorders. African American men are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, when expressing symptoms related to mood disorders or PTSD compared to White men.

All in All

In the African American community, many people misunderstand what a mental health condition is and don’t talk about this topic. This lack of knowledge leads many to believe that a mental health condition is a personal weakness or some sort of punishment from God. While mental illness doesn’t discriminate, many treatment methods do. Historically, African Americans have been and continue to be negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the healthcare system, and that doesn’t differ from the mental health system as well. 

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