Some medical conditions and symptoms present in obvious ways; for example, if a headache or stomachache persists, it may prompt people to seek the help of a medical professional. If you break your arm, you understand that you won’t be able to perform certain functions until your arm has healed. You also understand that proper healing will require the help of a medical professional. However, symptoms of mental health conditions aren’t quite obvious or commonly known. People adapt and learn to live with symptoms such as depression or anxiety. Many people seek ways to cope, rather than looking into the root of the issue.
However, mental health issues aren’t just difficult to live with on their own right – they also increase the chances one develops preventable physical conditions such as heart disease, according to The Mental Health Foundation. What’s more is that African Americans are already at a heightened risk for common preventable diseases, the CDC reported, and less likely to seek help for mental health conditions, according to Psychiatric Services. Certain pervasive stigmas perpetuate a hesitancy to acknowledge and treat mental health issues and these stigmas need to stop.
Stigma: Seeking Help Makes You Weak
Many African Americans live in what the Community Council of Mental Health describes as “Survival Mode.” The council published a paper that details how the Black community arrived at this place and how to get out. At the crux of the paper is the idea that there is presumed “strength” in remaining in survival mode and that it’s a part of the Black identity. There is presumed weakness in saying, “I’m not okay. I need help.” But it isn’t a weakness; it is a strength to ask for help. Everybody needs help. What differentiates those who ask for it from those who don’t is courage.
Stigma: Therapy Is A Luxury
Research published in The National Library of Medicine found that African Americans are more likely than white Americans to believe that mental health issues will simply go away on their own. This could be at the root of the idea that treating mental health is a luxury. Spending money, time or any sort of resource on something that presumably will go away on its own can be viewed as wasting money, time or resources. However, seeking help for a mental health condition is never a waste of time. It is important to note that, while waiting for a condition like depression to go away, one might feel compelled to take actions that have permanent consequences. And even if there is the belief that a condition will go away, that shouldn’t mean anyone suffers from it for any prolonged period of time. Most humans can agree with that statement regarding something like a headache or stomach ache – we take medicine to relieve symptoms – so why not apply the same philosophy to mental health? If the symptoms disrupt your ability to function and enjoy life, then addressing them is no luxury; it’s a necessity.
Stigma: Psychology Is Anti-Religious
In a research paper called “Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity” it was reported that 85 percent of African Americans consider themselves to be religious to some degree and use prayer as one of their main coping strategies. There does exist the idea that one’s religious leader, religious community and religious devotion should carry religious individuals through all hardships, including mental health issues. However, while mental health issues can sometimes feel like spiritual issues, they are in fact medical conditions. And in the same way that most major religious institutions allow for the fact that modern medicine is essential for physical ailments, it needs to be understood that there is nothing anti-religious about seeking professional help for mental health issues.
Stigma: Mental Health Is A Family Matter
“Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity” also stated that African Americans are highly likely to turn to friends and family to deal with hardship. Many individuals do feel that speaking about symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions is a private matter and only to be kept within the inner circle. However, it’s important to note that no matter how loving and well-meaning a family member or friend is, they do not have the medical training that a licensed mental health professional does and might not know how to help someone who is suffering in a sustainable, proven way. If one continues to reframe mental health issues as general health issues, then in the same way one easily shares symptoms like stomach and headaches with a doctor, they can share symptoms like depression or anxiety with a doctor, too.