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Mental Health

Mental Health in the Black Community: Prevalence, Care and Contributions

Black History Month is coming to an end this weekend, and it’s important that we ensure we’ve addressed the role that African Americans have played in the United States in various fields. An aspect that often goes forgotten and unspoken about is the relevance and importance of mental health regarding the black community. The truth is, African Americans experience mental illness on a disproportionate level and are less likely to receive proper treatment for a number of reasons. Additionally, there is a lack of representation of black individuals in mental health care, and African American contributions to the field often go unrecognized.

Prevalence

A study published by the International Journal of Health Services explores the impact and level of care that the black community receives in regards to mental health. When compared to the rest of the population, it was found that African American adults are about 20% more likely to experience mental health issues. This may be due to increased exposure to violent crimes or living below the poverty line, as both have shown to contribute to stress and mental health problems.

In addition, the existence of racial discrimination is also significantly detrimental to mental health and wellbeing. Racial trauma, also known as race-based traumatic stress, is defined as damage caused by racial discrimination on a mental and emotional level. Prolonged incidents of racial bias and discrimination can lead to symptoms including depression, anger, low self-esteem, and other physical reactions like insomnia. These symptoms can look different on a cultural level. This type of stress can be a result of both direct experiences of discrimination or intergenerational trauma. This is prevalent across various ethnic minority groups, and the black community is no exception.

Level of Care

In addition to a stronger prevalence of mental health issues, the level of treatment that the black community receives for these conditions is lower on average. The same study found that only 25% of African Americans seek treatment while about 40% of white people do the same. Additionally, African Americans are not given treatments like therapy or medication at the same level as the rest of the population. Furthermore, researchers have found that black people with mental health conditions involving psychosis are more likely to be imprisoned than people of other races.

Representation and Contributions

Though mental health in the black community is a complex issue with various factors to be addressed, the level of care received could potentially be improved with more effective representation of black individuals in the mental health field. Only about 1.5% of members of the American Psychological Association are black, while only 6.2% of psychologists in the United States are members of minority groups. With the lack of representation in mental health care, people may be led to believe that professionals will not be equipped to handle specific cultural issues. Therefore, encouraging more individuals to go into the mental health field and creating a more diverse environment in healthcare will likely help with some of the issues at hand.

In hopes of contributing to more effective representation of black individuals in the field of psychology and mental health, here are a few important African American people who made significant achievements in the field:

E. Kitch Childs​ was a clinical psychologist who helped find the Association for Women in Psychology in 1969. She also helped find Chicago’s Gay Liberation Front and owned a private practice where she provided therapy for marginalized members of society, including LGBTQ+ individuals and those living with HIV/AIDS. She also conducted research regarding feminist theory and the experiences of black women in her community.

Mamie Phipps Clark​ and ​Kenneth Bancroft Clark​ both conducted the “Doll Study,” which ended up providing crucial information in the case of Brown vs. The Board of Education. Their work displayed evidence supporting the end of school segregation as it displayed the psychological harm it posed on black children. Mamie Phipps Clark was the first black woman to earn a psychology doctorate, while Kenneth Bancroft Clark was the first black individual to be president of the American Psychological Association. Both individuals worked towards improving the lack of psychological services for the black community.

Maxie Clarence Maultsby, Jr ​was a psychiatrist who founded the psychotherapeutic method of rational behavioral therapy. His work primarily focused on behavioral and emotional self-help and self-control. Through his study, he created the first method of psychotherapy that produced long-term results while being short-term and drug-free. He’s written multiple books regarding rational self-counseling, and his contributions are what made emotional self-help a relevant subject in clinical practice and research.

Mental health is most definitely an issue that is important to the black community as a whole. With the heightened prevalence of issues with mental health and lack of proper care and treatment, it is essential that we recognize black contributions to the field, encourage diversity in the field of care, and as a country, do everything possible to work towards solutions for these problems affecting the black community.


block letters spelling out "mental health matters" on a red background
Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

Kaviya is a sophomore studying psychology and biology. Her hobbies include drawing and reading thriller/mystery novels, and she hopes to work in the field of clinical psychology one day.
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