The Silent Killer That Is Mental Illness: Black People Need Therapy Too

April 8, 2014  |

As black people, we are often praised for our strength. We’re tough. After all, we’re the race that endured 400 years of slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and still deal with modern-day racism disguised as something else. Still, statistically blacks see substantially lower rates in jobs and higher rates in poverty than most other races, but still we’re told to just hold on and be strong.

This strength, whether loud or quiet, is one of the reasons I take pride in being a black woman; but just like most things, it’s sometimes a gift and a curse.

This strength is one of the reasons why I’ve suffered from bouts of  anxiety and never mentioned it to anyone, often telling myself I’m tough and strong women don’t cry or break. And I’ve even seen other people experience issues that could only be classified as mental illness go without help. Yes, this ‘strength’ that most black people wear as a badge of honor is sometimes the same thing that kills us.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Services, blacks are 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than whites. Still, most of us don’t seek help. We can do it. We can get through it. We’re fighters. We’ll pray on it. These are only some of the ways we try to convince ourselves. And for a while it may work, but just like any issue that goes unresolved, things usually get worse.

While some consider suicide an act least associated with our community, I disagree. We also kill ourselves, and many times, not just in the literal sense. High obesity rates, several physical illnesses, increasing poverty and high incarceration rates are telling of the times.  One in every three black males is expected to go to jail at least once in his life, and if that’s not enough, studies show that black teenagers are twice as likely as whites to get pregnant at a young age. While we don’t necessarily end our lives physically, some stressed decisions slowly kill our dreams, our hopes, and our happiness.

So what’s the first step? As cliché as it sounds, being honest with yourself is most important. Admit that you’re going through a tough time, that you have issues stemming from your past, or that you’re tired of having to be so strong. Then make up in your mind that you will be committed to living a better life than your ancestors, because you have more resources than they did to speak out, speak up and seek help.

We don’t have to hurt alone or even be ashamed of our pain. As strong as we are taught to be, even the strongest people can crack; and when we do, we should seek help. Whether it’s ‘daddy issues’, a poverty-stricken childhood, sexual abuse that was swept under the rug, or low self esteem, black people need help too, and there’s no shame ins seeking out help professionally for our issues. 

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  • Maressa

    I agree that if there’s anything black people need most, it’s not materialistic things: it’s to take charge of their health physically but even more importantly, mentally. Mental health should be the priority before anything else but unfortunately, we may see it as important but not as important as it should be. I understand that it’s hard because of the racial factors that come into play because most therapists are of a different race and we can sometimes be paranoid about how other races perceive us, treat us, or if they will sabotage us. That’s why I feel that we need a good amount of diverse black mental health professionals of all types. All black students should really look into and consider these careers. With some us, church, family, and friends may not be enough, especially when we’re bringing up some of the really negative issues. So the solution is to invest into finding those quality black professionals and not worry too much about the price tag because the investment will likely pay off in the long run when you look back at your life in the future. In the meanwhile, if you’re waiting to save up for it, journaling or seeking anonymous listeners online is never a bad idea.

  • SheDevilsRule

    an article that will help rather then hurt. I am so sick of the race bashing that goes on here. It’s about time Madame Noire. Would be nice to see more like this one.

  • chasadie

    Also, the black community’s mistrust of medical establishments is for good reason. Our distrust of medicine comes from being used in various experiments (Tuskegee Experiments anyone?) to receiving substandard, inadequate treatments when we DO decide to seek help.

    So the real question is, even if we DO go seek help, will we receive quality treatment or not based on our skin color?

  • chasadie

    Thank you so much for posting this, and making people more aware.

    I agree 100% that mental illness isn’t taken seriously in our community, and is seen as an almost taboo, or something only ‘white people’ deal with.

    I work in an industry where my money is based on my looks, and it’s EXTREMELY stressful when my non-black coworkers are constantly reassured of their beauty and desirability and I’m constantly and deliberately ignored. I’ve been told that it’s because I’m intimidating because I ‘appear’ to carry myself well, when in actuality I’m struggling on the inside trying not to do anything to offend anyone, and not fall into the stereotype most people have of black people.

    It’s like I can’t really be myself, or relax because I don’t want people judging me for being too loud, or too aggressive or unladylike just for having an opinion. It’s caused me to overthink things before I even talk to people, and it’s led to my having low self-esteem and anxiety. I also suffer from clinical depression as well.

    We are a strong group of people, and our ancestors endured more than we can ever really imagine. All we can go on is recorded history, and our grandparents memories. No one has really considered the effects that hundreds of years of mental, and physical abuse has done to us as a community, and the incarceration, high pregnancy rates and all of the other horribe problems facing us as a community stems from that.

    Honestly, I feel like MOST black people need counseling, in order to fix their mental state and raise mentally healthy children that will move our community forward instead of contributing to our stagnation. We are a beautiful, resiliant, VIBRANT people, and taking care of our mental and physical health will only reinforce those qualities. THERE IS NO SHAME IN TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF. Therapy is for EVERYBODY.

    • milly84

      I felt like i wrote this ..well said n thank you for sharing. Some of my closest friends don’t even know about the debilitating fear,anxiety,anger,and low self esteem issues i deal with day in and day out…

  • At A Crossroads

    I’m glad more information is being presented on mental health for black people. I’ve dealt with issues for years but this year I decided that I would reach out for help and follow through with it. It’s a struggle and some days are better than others but life is getting better for me. Slowly. I think more people may get help but there’s such a stigma, in the black community especially, in regards to mental illness.

  • sarah

    Great article I did Want to comment on the teen pregnancy rates. Although we are still having more live births young than whites the pregnancy rates are fairly similar plus it’s worth mentioning that the rates have dropped significantly over the past 25 years consistently. Just some good news to share.

    • Lisa McDuffie

      ….. Ok

      • Mademoiselle Antoine

        What’s teen pregnancy rates have to with mental illness in the black community?

        • Lisa McDuffie

          That’s what I was wondering!

  • Laura Cosme

    my Aunty Kaylee
    recently got a nearly new blue Volkswagen Routan by working part time off of
    a macbook. see this W­o­r­k­s­7­7­.­C­O­M­

  • Anon

    Thank you for posting this. I, too exist with anxiety and the perfectionist form of OCD. It had become such a normal part of my existence until I had a severe bout of anxiety that made me seek therapy. Even during that time, I found a way to silently suffer. I still was functional at work and the other activities I participated in. Therapy not only helped me deal with anxiety, it improved my overall quality of life. I am grateful every day for it.