Have you ever gone through a rough part of your life and felt like you couldn’t ask for help? Well, I’ve been through rough patches in my life. In the 6th grade, I was bullied, but I felt like I couldn’t tell the people I loved most in the world about it, not even my own mother. The problem isn’t exclusive to me: To start with, African Americans have struggled for decades with their mental health due to systemic racism and generational trauma. What makes it worse is the pressure in our own communities to act like everything is alright and not be seen as weak or a burden. This stigma, in turn, means that many people in Black communities are reluctant to seek and utilize support. Therefore, as a community, Black people should come together by going to their local community centers, places of worship, and schools to educate others on the benefits and impact of these resources.

A chief element of the problem is the ridicule that Black people face for their mental illnesses in their own community. As we see, the statistics from the DC Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) state that only one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care compared to 40% of white people who do. Those statistics could be for a number of reasons, but the DBH thinks the reasons are misinformation, lack of culturally competent health professionals, and the heavy reliance on faith and family support. This evidence just proves how Black people as a community need each other to support them through their illness, not ridicule and judge. Another example of African Americans being uncomfortable discussing mental health came from a study at McLean Hospital. Nearly 65% of African American youth report traumatic experiences, and Black patients were 33% less likely to engage in patient-centered communications. What stands out to me is how specifically one comes to outwardly talk about their problems and how African Americans were less likely. The reason for that is the stigma spread through my community and that people think they shouldn’t talk about these types of issues because it is seen as taboo when they do.

The solution is to create a stronger community. In this safe space, people will feel comfortable talking about their issues freely with their local community. In 2022, “Erasing Mental Health Stigma in the Black Community” notes that there are four main ways to help break down the stigma against mental health and seek it. One of the four ways is to remain open when talking about your issues and hearing that other people who are going through the same thing are bringing everybody together. The second way is to believe people when they speak out against their illness; for example, telling them to “fix their attitude” doesn’t help them recover. Once again, McLean Hospital is a great source of information, even outlining a possible solution. McLean suggests that mental health professionals should “acknowledge racism’s harmful effects and when possible, they should attend training provided by professional organizations so they can learn about conscious and unconscious biases.” This just goes to show how deeply rooted the mental problems Black people face that therapists need to take a whole other level of training to be able to help them properly.

My topic doesn’t exactly have an obvious opposing force. However, the stigma in the Black communities is one of the main reasons. What a lot of these deeply rooted assumptions about people are is that the people they are assuming need help to get better. Even people they consider like family and their friends stop them from seeking help, maybe without even knowing it. These assumptions about people with mental illnesses, especially the ones given within the Black community, inhibit people from actually getting better and just dragging them down deeper and creating worse illnesses. Some of these problems could have been treated if people didn’t feel ashamed or weak for just seeking help. Therapy and breaking down these stigmas so deeply rooted in the Black community is absolutely necessary to make sure Black people have an equal chance, like any other race, to achieve proper mental health.

Mental illness in Black communities creates challenges because it is so stigmatized that people in the community are against addressing it and seeking help. So, as a community, Black people should and need to come together by going to their local community centers, places of worship, and especially schools to educate others on the benefits of talking about their issues. Then, to reiterate, the reason why we need to do this is that we can’t just let Black people fall into these depressive episodes and just live with these traumatic experiences that aren’t human. We need to show compassion to others and acceptance not to get anything out of it but to be a decent human being doing what’s right in the world, even if you think it’s something small, by listening to somebody having a bad day.

Written By:

Melvin Douglas

Grade 11

DC International PCS