The stigma surrounding mental health is present in every community and the black community is no different. Due to the history of vulnerability and oppression in the culture, African
Americans are less likely to seek mental health care compared to their counterparts. According
to Ruth White, a professor at USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, only 1 in 3
African Americans seek mental health treatment for their challenges.
The Stigma Behind Mental Health in the Black Community
Some of the barriers to mental health treatment:
Lack of trust in the medical community
There are so many instances where African Americans are misdiagnosed, have their symptoms of
illnesses not taken seriously, and exploited for the advancement of medical research
(ex. Tuskegee Syphilis Study).
These instances and the mistrust continues to expand,
especially with more forward racism in society, with much of the racism being politically
Religion & and spirituality
During times of despair, African Americans tend to turn to religion and spirituality for support. Many believe that going to a therapist or counselor would be turning against their faith and is often seen as a sign of weakness.
The History of Mental Health in the Black Community
The history of mental health in the black community is not well-documented before the 1700s.
According to Dr. Uchenna Umeh, a former Texas physician, in 1848 John Galt, a physician and
medical director of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum in Williamsburg, Virginia, offered that blacks are
"immune to mental illness.”
African Americans were thought to not have mental health issues due to not being allowed to own property or participate in financial or civil affairs. Essentially, mental illnesses were only diagnosed in white men.
Before the Civil War, many African Americans were not allowed admission in mental health
facilities due to the fear of their counterparts not being able to heal if blacks were
admitted. Those facilities that did take African Americans and often mistreated and misdiagnosed
them. They were also not given proper living conditions compared to their counterparts and some of them were even accused of criminal activities that often extended their stay. That was just the beginning of the mistrust of African Americans in the mental health community.
Moving forward towards the 20th century, African Americans with mental health faced even
more challenges, especially with eugenics, a belief that only people with good genes should
bear children. Good genes were considered individuals without mental illness, those who were
not poor, and those who did not display sexual promiscuity.
During that time, many African Americans were falsely accused and/or criminalized so that they could be sterilized against their will. African Americans, including children, also experienced the removal of certain parts of the brain, lobotomy, as a treatment of mental health. The stigma of mental health in the black community is deeply rooted in its history.
The Impact on the Mental Health of the Black Community
Today, the impact of mental health continues. Due to the history of mental health and the
continued oppression, racism, and terrorism in today’s society, African Americans continue
to have a barrier to mental health treatment.
In addition, low socioeconomic status, systematic oppression, and unfair treatment in the medical community also contribute to the inability of African Americans to have access to resources to fully support their mental health needs.
The strong beliefs in the church community also act as a barrier as ideas of forgiveness do not
allow individuals to fully cope and move past wrongdoings towards them in a healthy way.
The stigma in today’s society continues to sustain African Americans in a sense of vulnerability.
Further work in minimizing inequalities and breaking down barriers can begin improving mental
health in African Americans.
Are you ready to start your journey to wellness? Schedule an appointment with us today to see how we can support you.
Disclaimer: For informational use only. This is not medical advice. A therapist-client relationship has not been established by receiving and/or viewing blogs from Well-Life Counseling & Spiritual Center, PLLC.