Mental health problems exist across racial, ethnic and cultural lines, impacting individuals from all walks of life. However, these issues don’t necessarily impact communities proportionally. Black Americans, in particular, may face mental health obstacles at a higher rate than other groups, something that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data makes clear. As a WebMD article puts it, Black people are also less likely than white people to seek and receive the treatment they need.
In fact, WebMD statistics show that Black Americans are more likely than white Americans to grapple with feelings of sadness, worthlessness and despair; yet, fewer than 10% of Black Americans get mental health counseling or treatment, compared with more than 18% of white Americans.
For Black individuals who struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts or other mental health problems, some valuable resources may provide relief.
Depression in the Black Community
Depression is a mental health condition that’s both common and serious. The condition can negatively impact how an individual thinks and behaves. While people experience depression in different ways and to different degrees, the condition is typically characterized by feelings of prolonged sadness or loss of interest in activities that once brought pleasure and meaning.
Depression Among Black Americans
According to Mental Health America, more than 19 million Americans struggle with depression, but Black Americans are overrepresented in this number.
Depression can have categorical causes, such as genetics or substance abuse. Incidents of abuse or loss may also cause feelings of depression. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about general anxiety that’s led to an uptick in depression, something that’s true across racial and cultural lines.
With that said, some causes of depression are unique to the Black community. In particular, depression can be a reflection of systemic and nonsystemic racism or ongoing reckonings with police brutality.
Sadly, depression is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed in the Black community, due to both the stigma surrounding mental illness and the distrust of mental health treatment systems.
Resources for Coping with Depression
For any Black individual who suffers from depression, resources exist that may help. Consider the following:
- Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, Black Virtual Therapist Directory. Seek a therapist or counselor you can speak with in a private online setting.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness, Black/African American. Gain more information about depression in the Black community.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Helpline. Call the national helpline for assistance dealing with depressive symptoms.
Suicide in the Black Community
Suicide and suicidal ideations are tragically common among Black Americans, in particular children. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the suicide rate among Black children ages 5 to 11 has increased significantly since 1993, when it was the 14th leading cause of death — now it’s in the top 10. That suicide rate is nearly twice the suicide rate among white children of a similar age.
Causes of Suicide
Like depression, suicidal ideation may have several potential factors, some of them pertaining to race. The most common risk factors include the following:
- Family dysfunction
- Social isolation
- Untreated depression or anxiety
- Exposure to violence
Additionally, experiences with systemic or nonsystemic racism, including abusive policing, may be factors that contribute to suicide and its higher frequency in the Black communty.
Black Mental Health Resources
Several resources offer support to Black men, women and children who have considered suicide. Begin with these:
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Suicide Prevention Resources. Visit this page for some general resources about suicide prevention.
- The Black Swan Diaries, Resources. Use this link to access some Black-specific mental health tools.
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Blacks, and African Americans. Learn more about how to address suicidal tendencies in the Black community.
Mental Health and Black Women
Some mental health problems impact Black women at an especially high rate. Depression is first on the list.
Causes of Depression in Black Women
As previously mentioned, depression has several categorical causes, which aren’t necessarily unique to Black women. For example, depression may be a simple matter of genetics. It may also result from situations of abuse or family dysfunction.
However, ample evidence exists that Black women face depression at a high rate and that multiple factors contribute to this. As an article at Psych Central puts it, Black women have a high risk for major depressive disorder (MDD) due to such factors as racial and gender discrimination, poverty and single parenting.
Prevalence of Depression and Anxiety in Black Women
The same Psych Central article notes that more than 4% of Black people express symptoms of depression, compared with 3% of white people. The article also reports that “just 7.6 percent of African-Americans sought treatment for depression compared to 13.6 percent of the general population.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine offers further context: Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depressive episodes, but only half as likely to seek treatment for them.
Stigma and Perception
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, many Black women have a difficult time overcoming cultural beliefs that only “weak” people need counseling or antidepressant intervention and that admitting to symptoms of mental illness means a person is “crazy.” The National Council for Behavioral Health summarizes this unique stigma.
Another reason Black women are reluctant to seek the treatment they need is that they’re often so busy caring for other people, including their children or elderly parents, that they simply don’t have time to care for themselves.
Black Mental Health Resources for Women
Learn more about the mental health struggles that Black women face from these resources:
- Cosmopolitan, “These Virtual Mental Health Resources for Black Women Can Make All the Difference.” Visit this article for mental health resources focused on Black women’s
- The Everygirl, Online Mental Health Resources for Black Women. Check out additional services and treatment options for Black women.
- Self, “44 Mental Health Resources for Black People Trying to Survive in this Country.” Review this list of mental health options aimed specifically at Black people.
Mental Health and Black Children
Children and adolescents in the Black community can face especially steep mental health struggles.
Prevalence of Suicide
The Congressional Black Caucus has called black suicide a “crisis,” and a USA Today article confirms that suicide attempts among black adolescents have risen by 73% since 1991. During this same period, the rate of injury from attempted suicide by Black boys has risen by more than 122%.
White adolescents and teens die by suicide at a higher rate, but, according to the article, “the rate of black youth suicide is increasing faster than any other racial or ethnic group. Black youth under 13 were twice as likely to die by suicide than their white counterparts.”
There are a number of factors that contribute to these high numbers of Black suicide rates, including encounters with systemic racism and police brutality, as well as the disproportionately high rate at which Black families have been impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, mental health problems are often linked to individuals who grow up in low-income settings.
Something else that contributes to this higher rate of suicide among Black children and teens is that there can be racial disparities in access to mental health treatment as well as pediatric care. Black children are simply less likely than their white counterparts to have access to the treatments they need for dealing with anxiety, stress and depression. Systemic barriers significantly limit the ability of Black people, including Black children, to get the care they need.
Learn More About Mental Health and Black Children
These resources provide additional insight into the mental health issues that Black children face:
- Black Girls Smile, Resources & More. Check out this resource list, focused specifically on Black girls.
- Mental Health America, Black and African American Communities and Mental Health. Take a closer look at mental health disparities in Black and African American communities.
- The Trevor Project, “Supporting Black LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.” Learn more about supporting mental health among black LGBTQ youth.
Overcoming Barriers of Accessing Black Mental Health Treatment
One of the reasons mental health problems are so common in Black communities is the significant barriers to seeking treatment.
Some of these barriers are socioeconomic. In lower-income Black communities, families may not be able to afford counseling or have health insurance access that they could use for treatment and pharmaceutical intervention. Additionally, low-income schools may not have the kind of counseling programs that children need to improve their mental well-being.
Additionally, mental health stigmas in the Black community persist, including the widely held belief that to seek treatment for a mental health disorder is to admit a weakness.
Resources for Overcoming These Barriers
The good news is that resources are available to help overcome these barriers. Examples include the following:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Mental Health Resources for the Black Community. Check out these resources, made to help the Black community overcome racial disparities in mental health counseling.
- Black Mental Health Alliance, 12 Books on Behavioral Health Written by Black People. View this reading list to learn more about Black mental health.
- Health, “5 Black Mental Health Resources to Fight the Harmful Effects of Racism.” Consider these resources for overcoming the mental health effects of racial injustice.
Enhancing Mental Health in Black Communities
Mental health disorders can impact anyone, but especially Black Americans. The right resources can facilitate a better understanding of mental health disparities, and provide guidance and solutions for overcoming them.