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Mental Health Stigma in the Black Community

Research states that one in four adults and one in ten children will experience mental health problems at some point in their life. Even so, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to mental health problems. Understandably, it can be a difficult topic to talk about, but statistics like this show those struggling are not alone.

The amount of people seeking treatment and support has increased in recent years. Though, this is not the case for all communities. Black men are the least likely to seek support and more prone to masking their pain.

Unfortunately, the story of many in this community is one of perseverance and repression. Irrespective of race, religion or culture, the statistics around mental health stay the same. In fact, research suggests that those from communities of colour are twenty per cent more likely to report severe psychological distress but are much less likely to seek treatment.

Where the stigma stems from?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there is a negative stigma attached to mental health in the black community. Beliefs are formed through personal experiences, family life, culture, and traditions

The belief that seeking support for mental health problems shows weakness is one that permeates through the community. According to experts, systemic oppression and racial adversity experienced by many of its members creates a survivalist mentality. As a result, this creates the belief that the person struggling is the only one that can do anything – causing them to carry the full burden.

It is not a weakness to seek support. Properly trained mental health experts, or even reaching out to family and friends can help reduce the burden.

The stigma that having mental health problems is a weakness stops some people from seeking help. The problem is seeing it as a weakness stops it from being recognised as a genuine illness. Which it is. After all, we wouldn’t think this way about a physical illness such as cancer, diabetes, or epilepsy.

How can we break the stigma?

It is reported that around forty per cent of white people seek help for a mental health problem, compared to only twenty-five per cent of those from the black community. Individually, we can all work towards ending the stigma, so that more people feel comfortable speaking out and getting help.

It is crucial that as a society we do not represent mental health problems as a weakness. Studies show that popular media often portrays an overdramatised and distorted view of mental illness. Consequently, these negative representations help proliferate a volatile, stigmatised and inaccurate view of those suffering with mental health issues.

However, the narrative, particularly on social media, in recent years is being reframed to mirror the way we perceive mental illness as similar to how we see physical illness. Shifting cultural and social narratives is imperative to increase mental health awareness and encourage those struggling to seek help.

Individual steps to take in ending mental health stigma:

  • Educate family and friends about the challenges of mental health within the black community.
  • Be aware of your own attitudes and beliefs to reduce implicit bias or negative perceptions of mental illness.
  • Bring awareness to the use of language that you or others around you use that helps perpetuate the stigma.

As well as individual steps, there are also treatments available specifically designed for minority populations. These are led by people with firsthand experience of the unique challenges faced by the black community. You can find out more about this online or by asking a medical professional.

Mental health problems do not discriminate based on skin colour. We are all human and the reality is that a lot of us will struggle with our mental health at some point. Getting support is not a weak thing to do. Therefore, speaking out and offering support to those you think may be struggling is the first step to overcoming the epidemic of mental illness we are seeing worldwide.

If you need support for your mental health, contact us as therapy@acap.org.uk or submit a self referral form.

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