African Americans and the Mental Health Stigma
I wish more people especially my African American counterparts understood the value of therapy. Have you ever heard a Black parent say “oh he’s just bad” when speaking about an overly rambunctious child? There’s probably something deeper going on there but we’ve been conditioned to sweep it under the rug. In my opinion this is due to a combination of ignorance and lack of psychoeducation. Counseling or therapy (which can sometimes be used interchangeably) is the process of using specific techniques and approaches over a long or short period of time to promote mental wellness. There is a stigma in the African American community that going to see a helping professional means that something is severely wrong. A 2008 study by Alvidrez et al., revealed that over a third of African Americans who regularly partake in counseling keep their decision to see a professional to themselves. This choice stems from a fear of judgement in their African American social circles. In some instances there are disorders that need to be addressed, but therapists can also serve as an unbiased ear to everyday issues.
In Black households, talking to anyone outside of the family can be viewed as “airing out the family’s dirty laundry” or “spreading family business.” Unfortunately, this toxic thinking is the reason why so many little girls and boys grow up carrying the pain of molestation and abuse and live with mental scarring well into adulthood. Despite some of the traumas that occur in black families, often times those affected would much rather show a sense of loyalty to family members than to “disgrace” their family name by sharing their truths.
When you think about what a therapist looks like from a physical standpoint what initially comes to mind? Do you envision an older white male or female, with glasses, and one leg crossed over the other at the knee? The common perception is that there is a lack of diversity amongst helping professionals. Realistically, the counseling profession is dominated by white males. However, over the past decade there has been an increase in both female and minority therapists. This means the likelihood of finding a therapist with whom you can share the basic commonalities is greater than it has been in previous years.
There’s Nothing Wrong with Me
A lot of people believe that only those with mental disorders should seek counseling. This thought is problematic and prohibits a lot of people from living a better quality of life overall. Did you know that some people utilize counseling services just to help relieve every day life stressors? Work, kids, and relationships are often things that test our patience and can leave our scales unbalanced. Seeing a professional on a regular basis can make these roles in our lives a little more manageable.
If you subscribe to any form of religion and have any experience with the Black church then you have probably heard people make mention of praying demons away. Personally, I strongly believe that prayer and supplication can result in the manifestation of what we want if we use the power within us appropriately. However, one cannot simply pray away mental illness and you certainly can’t go it alone. If you believe in a higher power then you’ve also got to believe that people were put on this earth by that deity to utilize their gifts to help others. Do not let your religious beliefs limit you into believing that your treatment resides only within the confines of that edifice.
In 2019, I challenge you to make a serious investment into your mental health and release all inhibitions and preconceived notions about seeking help. It can be scary to start but the end result is a sound mind and better understanding of who you truly are. Just like our bodies, our minds have to endure daily use. At the end of the day when you lie down, your body might be at rest but your mind never completely shuts down. Mental fatigue, just like physical fatigue is real. With a new year on the horizon it’s a great time to check your health benefits and see what is offered in regard to mental health coverage. Most insurance companies will cover you and your only commitment is a small copay per office visit. I also encourage you to check out PsychologyToday.com and find a licensed professional in your area. You can find out a lot about potential therapists and even email them directly.
-Simply, ATL ❤️