African-American? Your Mental Health Matters

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African-Americans are just as likely as people of other races to have depression, but statistics show they seek out treatment for mental health issues less often than other populations. Of those looking for mental health care, approximately 25 percent are black, compared to 40 percent white, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Increased Risk Factors

Poverty and gender discrimination are two main factors that increase the risk for African-Americans not getting treatment for depression. Both of these factors are more likely to impact black women even more so than black men.

Poverty disproportionately affects black women compared to white women across the country. A large percentage of African-American women are also single mothers, creating further financial hardships.

Regarding gender discrimination, black communities often put males and females on an uneven playing field. Men tend to be viewed as needing to be cared for, while women are typecast as needing to be strong and power through.

If the thought crosses your mind, “I might need help,” that’s when you should start looking.

Why African-Americans Avoid Treatment for Depression

  • Insurance issues: Many African Americans are uninsured or underinsured, making it challenging to cover the costs for health care. When you consider life essentials and someone is faced with buying food or going to the doctor, food will win out just about every time.
  • Shame and embarrassment: The social stigma related to mental health issues plays a part in the refusal by some African Americans to seek treatment. In many black communities, depression is viewed as a weakness instead of an illness. In others, prayer plays a role, with individuals making mental illness a sin issue rather than a health issue.
  • Lack of knowledge: You don’t know what you don’t know, and if you don’t know something’s wrong, why would you seek out treatment for it?
  • Lack of trust: The deep and lasting legacy of the Jim Crow laws and the Tuskegee syphilis study contribute to a powerful mistrust of the health care system by African-Americans.
  • Development of other support: When limited by outside factors, such as insurance, poverty, and lack of childcare, many African Americans turn to the community around them for support. They find people to lean on and ways to cope that exist outside of the health care space.

Why You Should Find Help

Despite all of these barriers to care, African-Americans should not be reluctant to seek out care for clinical depression. The feelings of being helpless and hopeless that often accompany depression can lessen with treatment. It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, but it’s not normal to feel sad all the time.

Unfortunately, we talk about mental health issues like sickness in your brain is different from sickness in the rest of your body. It’s not. It’s like catching a cold or having congestive heart failure. Assuming you have the means to get it treated, you would.

When you get treatment for depression, your sleep can be better, your appetite can be better, and your time spent with loved ones can be more enjoyable.

When to Seek Help

If the thought crosses your mind, “I might need help,” that’s when you should start looking. You should also find help if you have symptoms of depression that interfere with your ability to function in everyday life and that last longer than two to three weeks.

Additionally, if you ever are having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, get help immediately at the nearest hospital emergency room, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255)(800) 273-8255.

If you’re not feeling well, whatever time you have with your loved ones will be compromised. The sooner you get help, the sooner you’ll start feeling better.

Where to Find Help

SAMHSA’s National Helpline: (800) 662-HELP (4357)(800) 662-4357 or (800) 487-4889(800) 487-4889 (TDD).

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Small Steps: Be a Companion
Offer to accompany your depressed friend to appointments and offer encouragement.