Trauma and Healing for the Black Community

Mental health is often a topic we disregard to pace our busy lives. It is, however, crucial that we focus more on mental health to provide adequate help to those who need them, especially for vulnerable communities.

Approximately 13.4% of the United States population identifies as Black or African American. Out of those individuals, more than 16% of individuals struggle with mental health complications, which is roughly seven million people. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 57.8 million adults over 18 in the U.S. reported symptoms of mental illness in 2021. This means around 12% of mental health complications come from the Black community.

Despite the high number of mental health complications in the community, mental health awareness is lacking due to stigmas, health disparities, and inadequate resources. Mental health in the Black community can often be challenging to address, as there are continuous negative stigmas about receiving help, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

On top of stigma, access to proper healthcare is often unavailable to the Black community. Their problems and stress are frequently disregarded, leading to insufficient help and attentiveness. When an individual struggling with mental health issues is rejected or told that they're merely weak, symptoms such as depression and anxiety can worsen.

As of 2017, only 25% of Black individuals have a college degree or higher, and approximately 20% have lived in poverty as of 2018, reports Mental Health America, a nonprofit devoted to helping individuals with mental health. Such environmental factors can lead to a lack of proper healthcare, disregarding their mental health to prioritize daily tasks and work. For those who need to make money daily to put food on the table, getting therapy or discussing mental health may not be the first thing on their plate.

There's also a monetary issue as therapy can be very expensive, especially without insurance, costing around $100 to $200 per session, depending on the therapist. Even with insurance, it can range between $20 to $50 per session, which many individuals cannot afford weekly. Even if there are therapists willing to work with financially struggling individuals, there are generally not enough therapists who are people of color (POC) to choose from.

In 2021, the average salary of the U.S. Black population was approximately $46,400. After taxes, rent, food, and necessities, on top of inflation, that salary could be very tight to fit in a weekly therapy session or be prescribed medication for any mental health illnesses.

To delve deeper into the history of the Black community and its experience with mental health, Ebony Butler, a licensed psychologist focusing on helping individuals in trauma recovery and other mental health issues, shared her thoughts with Healthnews.

Dr. Ebony Butler, a licensed psychologist

"Historically, Black people encounter greater systemic and structural issues that lead to them being exposed to higher incidents of violence than other ethnic groups. Because of experiences such as poverty, inaccessibility of quality healthcare and educational resources, financial disparities, etc., Black people are more likely to reside in areas where there is increased trauma exposure, such as violence, policing of their bodies, racial profiling, stricter laws and policies, and increased drug/substance use," says Butler.

She continues, "Due to a lack of resources, many are forced to stay in these areas and are repeatedly exposed to more of the same type of traumatic experiences."

Our environment plays a critical factor in our mental health. Although many events cause mental health illnesses, we cannot forget about one’s atmosphere and surroundings. This means the places we visit daily, the people we surround ourselves with, and our family all contribute to our mental health.

If a person grows up in a low-income household without much support, there is a higher chance of that individual growing up with more stress compared to another individual who grew up with much access to healthcare, education, stability, and support.

When clients build up the courage to finally speak to someone, they want to know that they will be heard and understood. This is why so many clients prefer to speak to someone who looks like them. The mental health and therapy field has not always been a place where Black people and other people of color were safe, understood, and treated with respect and care. Historically, there has been quick pathologizing of Black people and other people of color, which has led to harsh and unfair treatment practices. Therefore, having someone who looks like you feels a bit safer and seems to decrease the risk of being misunderstood and treated unfairly.

Ebony Butler

The number of mental health professionals in the U.S. who are POC

There are more than 198,811 therapists and 81,000 psychologists across the U.S. Out of those numbers, only 4.13% of Black therapists are practicing, with 76.4% being white. The number of Black therapists has increased from 3.85% to 4.13% over the past decade, but it is still far from where it should be.

Butler says there are not enough POC mental health professionals in the nation. "A large part of the solution to this problem has to do with gatekeeping around who can enter the field and the obstacles to overcome to get there," she says.

"Specifically, exam and licensing practices make it extremely difficult for POC mental health professionals to pass and begin practicing. Furthermore, geographical limitations around licensing make it impossible for POC clients to reach POC mental health professionals who are not licensed in the state where the client lives, thus widening the gap between POC clients and POC mental health professionals."

Common mental health struggles among the Black community

"Common mental health struggles are anxiety, depression, PTSD, relationship difficulties, interpersonal challenges, family-of-origin distress, insomnia, and increased fear of death," explains Butler.

She says that it would be best to provide attention and needed help to individuals by providing adequate and accessible healthcare. It is critical to spread awareness and knowledge among the community. Help is available, including therapy, psychologists, medications, and self-help actions. Lifting up a community and supporting them through knowledge and resources can enact positive change and awareness.

Butler concludes, "The most effective help would be to address issues on a systemic and structural level that negatively impact Black people and other people of color. Specifically, direct attention should be given to creating better laws and policies that positively impact the mental health of Black people and other people of color. Laws and policies around mental health access and cost also need to be addressed. Paying POC mental health professionals wages that are commensurate to their worth and training is a huge step in the right direction as well. There are a number of organizations paying for the mental health care of POC clients, and this is helpful, yet we need so much more of this same effort."

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Harold A Maio
prefix 1 year ago
I am overwhelmed by the number of people who want me to believe there is a stigma to mental health issues.
I wonder what they are up to.