Sisters and brothers, we have a problem! There is a void that we are struggling to satisfy — a hole so deep and multifaceted that it will take awareness and an open heart to fill.
While Blacks make up 12% of the national population, we account for approximately 25% of the mental health needs in the United States. As a matter of fact, that 25% is likely an underestimation since numerous cases of mental illness go unnoticed and unreported in our community. As our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, we want to know, why do we continue to suffer in silence?
Attitudes and perceptions play a large role in the Black community when it comes to mental health. We are quickly met with, “I’ll just pray about it” or “ I don’t want anyone in my business” when addressing someone's need for treatment. While we believe in the power of prayer and furthermore, the limitless power of our spiritual doctor, we can’t help but to notice that we don’t take the same approach to illnesses like diabetes or hypertension. We, as a community, are accepting of diabetes and hypertension as illnesses but place mental illness in a category all of its own.
But, just like one does not choose to have diabetes, one does not choose to be depressed, anxious, obsessed, bipolar or traumatized. Mental health conditions are the result of a timely and intricate imbalance of chemicals, combined with life stressors, circumstances and difficulty coping.
Depression, in particular, is often considered a personal weakness or character flaw. Black women, who have 50% higher rates of depression than their Caucasian counterparts, often expect that they should be able to wear their cape with the “S” on their chest at all times. There is an unfortunate and dangerous misconception that anything less than their best is a sign of inadequacy. For these reasons, many women are in denial, fearful of embarrassment and shame from our community.
But there is nothing weak about recognizing a mental health condition and asking for help.
The void of mental health in the Black community is further exacerbated by deficiencies in the healthcare system. A lack of knowledge of mental health conditions and their presentations, access to medical care, financial support to afford treatment or medication, mistrust for the healthcare system along with a deficit of Black psychologists and psychiatrists all contribute to the void. It is a fact that Black physicians are five times more likely to treat Black patients. In 1998, only 2% of psychiatrists and psychologists were African American. Fast forward to 2008, and that number, now at 5%, still trails behind other ethnicities.
Now that we have your attention, what do we do about it? We can start by taking the following actions.
1. Recognize that mental health conditions are real and rampant in our community.
2. Support one another with no shame.
4. There is power in asking for help.
5. The Affordable Care Act requires that most insurance plans cover mental health disorders.
6. Seek medical professionals that you can trust.
Together we can fill the void.
Dr. Gameli Dekayie-Amenu & Dr. Chantale Stephens-Archer are the co-founders of BestiesMD. As both best friends and physicians, they are committed to providing reliable women's health education on a relatable and sisterly level.