Despite facing mental illness at similar rates to other ethnic groups, Black Americans still receive services at a rate significantly less than other groups. In a 2018 National Survey, 5 million Black Americans reported struggling with mental health issues, yet only 1 in 3 reported receiving appropriate treatment. In fact, many BIPOC report using the emergency room during a mental health crisis instead of mental health specialists.
Although we’re living in a time when mental health is becoming less stigmatized, we cannot ignore the fact that Black Americans still face major socioeconomic barriers when it comes to accessing appropriate mental health care. We would like to take a closer look at the specific barriers that many Black Americans face, and what we as a society can do to help.
Barriers to mental health care for Black Americans
Today’s technology-driven world offers many options for connecting with mental health services. However, in the United States, Black Americans are not getting connected as often as others. There are several significant barriers that can prevent black Americans from accessing mental health care services. Some of these include:
- Cultural stigma. The topic of mental illness is often stigmatized in Black communities. The roots of mental health stigma trace back to slavery, where terms associated with mental health (like “depression” and “anxiety”) were ignored. Instead, less-stigmatized words like “stressed out” or “tired” were used, which silenced considerable mental health needs. Generational trauma can impact mental health and discourage seeking help. The cultural norm of not talking about mental illness or taking it seriously still deters many Black Americans from reaching out for help today. In addition to avoiding certain language, a mental health diagnosis may be viewed as a sign of weakness by peers. This is another reason why many in the BIPOC community avoid mental health evaluation altogether.
- Lack of Black therapists. According to the American Psychological Association, only 2% of psychiatrists and 4% of psychologists are Black. This is a problem because many Black individuals have had negative experiences with providers who do not understand the importance or relevance of their racial identity. In an effort to avoid further pain or alienation, they simply avoid continued care altogether. This leads to higher incidences of undiagnosed and untreated mental health illnesses, and higher rates of suicide.
- High cost of services. Socioeconomic factors can make treatment options less available in the United States. In 2021, 9% of Black adults in the U.S. had no form of health insurance. And in some cases, sliding scales or reduced fees are still too high to maintain an ongoing relationship with a mental health provider.
- Implicit bias of providers. According to the APA’s Mental Health Facts for African Americans guide, Black individuals are less likely to receive guideline-consistent care due to how a provider perceives specific behavior. Provider symptom interpretation can dramatically alter how psychiatric care or screening is conducted. For example, a Black man’s vigilance in everyday life may be viewed as a natural consequence of race profiling by one counselor, while these behaviors could be seen as the paranoia characteristic of schizophrenia by another provider. Studies show that at least two-thirds of mental health providers hold some form of implicit bias against marginalized groups despite mindful efforts to provide unbiased care to all patients. Even when an individual gains access to an appointment, implicit biases may shape how they are viewed and thus treated.
- Lack of representation in the media. Movies, TV shows, and advertisements depict mostly white individuals attending therapy sessions. This may seem insignificant, but representation in the media plays a huge role in how society views and treats all ethnic groups. A lack of representation in the media strongly contributes to implicit bias and how society reacts to mental illness.
- Normalizing stress. Most members of the BIPOC community have encountered trauma in the form of racism (both covert and overt) but view it as a normalized part of Black life. This normalization leads many BIPOC Americans to dismiss their mental health symptoms and avoid getting care.
These barriers can contribute to disparities in mental health outcomes for black Americans compared to other groups. It is important to address these barriers and work towards equitable access to mental health care for all individuals.
Breaking barriers for Black Americans
One positive aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic is the increased prevalence of virtual options for mental health, which has opened doors and provided access to more providers through telehealth options. Also, there are some amazing resources for finding psychiatric resources that specifically support Black Americans, including podcasts, therapist directories for minorities, and online forums. Here are a few helpful starting places:
- Therapy for Black Girls - A directory for Black therapists who work with women, focusing on making mental health care more relevant and accessible to Black women.
- Therapy for Black Men - A directory for therapists on a mission to break down barriers specific to Black men that keep them out of treatment.
- Open Path Collective - A directory aimed to increase access by providing lower-cost options to consumers.
- Melanin and Mental Health - A user-friendly directory for finding a therapist of color.
- Black Mental Wellness Podcasts – An excellent resource for podcasts and mental health articles. Black Mental Wellness is an organization on a mission to shift the narrative of Black mental health through culturally sensitive resources and training opportunities.
How Medens is taking action
A critical first step in addressing the gap in mental health treatment for Black Americans is bringing more awareness to this discrepancy. That is why Medens Health takes cultural awareness so seriously. Acknowledging barriers to mental health access and working toward a more affordable and accessible mental health standard is paramount to creating change. While much work remains in changing the narrative for seeking mental health treatment, Medens Health is committed to doing its part through education, training, and continuing to destigmatize the mental health needs of Black Americans. You can read more about our commitment to cultural awareness and how our staff of diverse therapists provides culturally competent care here.
Ready to connect with a therapist who understands the mental health needs of Black Americans? Reach out to us by phone or text at (833) 624-5400, send us a message using our online contact form, or to register as a new patient get started here.
The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.
If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.